Archive for April, 2011

Gnu atheists are people, too.

April 28, 2011

I think a lot of the heat from my comparison of Gnu atheists to the Soviet Union is coming from this sort of impression:  How dare he hint that we atheists might condone such actions, especially the killings?  We’re good and moral people and would never advocate such a thing.  To suggest that is just offensive!

Well, to understand what I was really saying, people need to understand this important thing about my overall view:

I am utterly convinced that there is no movement or philosophy, no matter how noble, that humans won’t find a way to corrupt and pervert into a way to seek their own power and impose their own views on everyone else.  History, to me, has proven — if it has proven nothing else — that humans can take even the best-intentioned view and turn it into something horrible and horribly oppressive.

This is a cynical view, but I don’t really see a counter to this based on history.  We’ve oppressed nations and forced puppets into wars over Marxism and democracy, which seemed to be as well-intentioned as they get.  Liberals justified censorship in the name of equality of the sexes, as well as in the name of tolerance.  I can’t think of an example of anything that just turned out good.

As I said, it’s a sad, cynical view … but it also seems to be correct.

So when I apply that cynicism to the Gnu atheists, all I’m really saying is:  I think that, fundamentally, you’re human.  Just like religious people.  Just like democrats.  Just like everyone else.  If you don’t want your philosophy perverted and corrupted, be very vigilant.  I still think you’ll fail, but you might have a chance.

In short, the Gnu atheists thought I was calling them immoral, when to me all I was doing was calling them human.

But then, again, I am very cynical about this.

A set of comments, part 2 …

April 28, 2011

I meant to put more than one comment in the first post, but did decide to take Rieux on in more detail.  So now I’ll finish it off.


“You know, just because we don’t respect the content of theists’ beliefs, doesn’t mean we don’t respect their right to believe it. Atheists in America are one of the most liberal demographics (along with Unitarians and Buddhists) (all data from Pew Forum); to accuse them of authoritarian leanings is just stupid and offensive.”

First, there’s no real reason to think that liberals can’t be authoritarian in the right way, meaning that they’ll create laws against what they don’t like.  Feminists were quite liberal as well, and yet joined readily with the religious right to promote laws against pornography, for example.  If you can justify restrictive laws in the name of preserving liberalism or tolerance, liberals tend to be more than happy to leap on.  For religion, that justification is generally pretty easy to do, due in no small part to the religions themselves.

Second, Gnu atheists in particular may be quite liberal … now.  But if they succeed in converting people away from religion, how many of those people are going to be people who have a more authoritarian viewpoint and so will use their strong anti-religious views as justification for stronger measures?  This, to me, is indeed what occurred in the Soviet Union, and you will forgive me if I’m skeptical that liberalism and humanism will be the magical cures for such stupidity when history has shown that humans are exceptionally good at taking good ideas and corrupting them into the service of bad ones.


“Also to the degree where such “attitude” might exist, it’s something that’s been normalized in our society by religious extremists for a much longer time than the Gnu atheists have been around. Considering the invective that’s hurled our way, to be frank, I think that Gnu’s are quite well behaved all things considered.

Now if you want to remove that attitude from our society. That’s great. I actually agree. That said, atheists are not the problem. It’s the exclusivist religionists that are the problem. Go tell them to stop it, and stop wasting our time.”

1) I think religious extremists are a problem, too, and maybe a greater one.  Okay, probably a greater one for the reasons Sigmund espouses.

2) That being said, two wrongs don’t make a right, and if Gnu atheists lash out at people who are not spewing invective at them, that’s a problem.

3) We certainly shouldn’t consider that sort of aggressive tactic appropriate; at best, it should be considered unfortunate but understandable.  But I don’t get that impression from the defenses of it, even yours.

Thus, to my mind, they’re all problems … but the atheist problem might be easier to clean up and might allow moderate theists to free up their time to go after the religious fundamentalists.

Steve Zara:

“What massive anti-religious attitudes? From whom? I haven’t come across one person who is insisting that we should make anyone give up their religion. I haven’t come across one person who doesn’t support freedom of thought and personal belief. Not one, in years of being an on-line atheist. Not one.

So who are you talking about? What are these attitudes?”

Well, I agree that there isn’t a lot of discussion at at least the high level of forcing people to give up their religion.  But I never claimed there was.  My definition of anti-religious belief was, we must recall:

“Marxism-Leninism has consistently advocated the control, suppression, and, ultimately, the elimination of religious beliefs

Okay, we could quibble over what “suppression” means.  But control — limiting to the private sphere, as long as it doesn’t affect anyone else — and elimination — having religion disappear — are major themes of Gnu atheism, right back I think to Dawkins (but I’d have to look that one up).  Dennett is probably an exception to this.  But Gnu atheists generally see religion as harmful and do want to work to eliminate it.  Some of that may well just be rhetoric, but I don’t think so.  Harris, for example, even has problems with moderate and liberal religion, if I’ve heard right.

Now, this may not be bad.  And they may be right.  But I firmly believe that what it actually takes to make good people do bad things is really a) a belief that the end justifies the means and b) the right end.  The harms of religion espoused by the Gnu atheists would be trivial to convert into a right end, so that would leave only the former.

But, as I’ve said a million times already, I’m being cynical here.


“Really, Verbose, you DO need a spell in a concentration camp to learn how to pay attention! Cut the use of fundamentalist out – it ain’t applicable. Give instances of atheists who have said private belief should be forcibly repressed. Just how many times have you heard the New Atheists say you can believe what the **** you like in private…you just don’t get to load it on the rest of us.”

1) If any theist had ever made an argument suggesting that any atheist needed a spell in a concentration camp, wouldn’t that be challenged by most atheists?

2) The term “fundamentalists” was introduced by Sigmund, not me.

3) I admit that they haven’t said that, and never claimed they did.  However, if Dawkins considers some ways of teaching religion child abuse — and he does, with the doctrine of hell, and he isn’t clear on where the line is between acceptable and unacceptable is, if he thinks there is one — then if he’s being rational he should indeed want that stopped by law, since that’s what we do with child abuse.  And if “religion poisons everything” it’s a bit inconsistent to say “Well, but it’s okay if you keep on with it”; surely we’d want to remove the poison.  If religion is as bad as they say and as bad as they need it to be to justify an anti-religious stance, good people should want to remove it, by force if necessary.  If they claim not to believe that, then either they don’t really think religion is as bad as they say, they’re saying that they don’t want to impose it just to make people feel better, or they have an exceptionally strong attachment to individual liberty.  The last one may well be the case, of course, and is likely for some of them … but as movements grow, the people in charge may not share that attachment.


“Verbose, your fears are unfounded. New Atheism is not an ideological based movement, unlike Marxism or Stalinism. While there are ideologically inclined atheists among us (Harris and Hitchens come to mind), the movement is based on criticism and reason, and not principles or doctrine.”

That two people who are ideologically inclined are consider prime movers of the movement does not really support your position.  I’ll grant it for Dawkins and Dennett, but not for Harris, Hitchens, Myers, and maybe Coyne.  I’ll also grant it for Blackford and Rosenhouse.  I don’t have an opinion about anyone else, really.  But thanks for giving me examples of potentially problematic Gnu atheists.

The other comment I want to make here is to actually reference comment threads.  If those who are ideologically inclined post things like that in comment threads and on discussion groups, and those who are not do not call them out on it at all and, even worse, cheer them on, that’s not demonstrating your case either.  Then again, the same can be said about me, except for the cheering part.


“Verbo @ 120 referring to comment @ 99

As I was exceptionally careful to point out in the comment and in the post, I’m not saying that [militant anti-theism] will lead to [the control, suppression, and, ultimately, the elimination of religious belief]; there may be some other philosophy involved here that will prevent that.

Verbo @ 99

Anti-theist and anti-religious views do seem to tend, at times, towards the latter, and some Gnus do seem to be anti-theist and anti-relligion. And if that’s the case, could that attitude spread to [control, suppression, and, ultimately, the elimination of religious belief].

See, you actually did say what you insist you didn’t say by arguing for the historical if not logical conclusion of such “attitudes.” If you hold these unsavory generalization of others why not just admit it?”

He filled in a misquote:  I was referring to the stronger behaviours there, not the attitudes, and I did ask it as a question, not as it as being a logical conclusion.  Historically, it seems to have happened in the past, in multiple ways, so that’s undeniable; the question is if it can happen here.  So, yes, I was very careful to point out that I was not saying that it would, but merely asking if it could.

A set of comments …

April 28, 2011

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?

Fundamentalist Atheism …

April 28, 2011

EDIT:  The comment is out of moderation, it seems, so thanks to Ophelia for that.

There’s a discussion over at Butterflies and Wheels about the whole accommodationist thing again:

In one of the comments, frequent commenter Sigmund compared fundamentalist/militant theism and fundamentalist/militant atheism and wondered what the problem with fundamentalist/militant atheism was supposed to be:

” know why the accomodationists spend so much time on attacking the gnus. According to many of them and their ‘moderate’ religious allies, ‘militant fundamentalist atheists’ (I think they means us!) are just as bad as the worst sort of religious fundamentalists.

If you really see it that way then it becomes obvious why we need to be targeted.

Now personally I don’t see the equivalency of beheading Daniel Pearl on camera with a rusty knife or killing three thousand people in the twin towers, with PZ Myers calling Michael Ruse a clueless gobshite, but if they really are equivalent behavior then it makes sense to target us.

Perhaps I am too much of a ‘moral degenerate’ to be able to see how throwing a sacramental cracker in the garbage bin is the same thing as throwing acid in a schoolgirls face, or how telling Rob Knopp that his belief in a Jesus that rose from the dead and flew up to heaven and is as scientifically verified as a Leprechaun hiding his crock of gold at the end of the rainbow, well that just happens to be equivalent to executing someone for deciding they don’t believe in Islam.

Is our act of publicly pointing out that the catholic church have no right to be seen as ‘moral guardians’, particularly in the light of their global coverup of abusers, is that just as bad as the church’s action in actively preventing the use of condoms in HIV prevalent Africa?

I guess it must be! I just can’t see it.

I just thank my lucky stars that there are some nice accomodationists that CAN see this and do their utmost to stop me before I get to do much more damage.”

I ignored a lot of aside comments and focussed on the impression of why fundamentalism and militancy is considered bad in a reply I made there that at this time is still under moderation:


Well, I think the focus is more on the attitude than on the specific actions. The attitude of what could be called militant atheists seems to be quite similar to that of militant theists, but it’s just on the other end of the spectrum. That could suggest that it isn’t the views that stop atheists from committing similar actions, but just opportunity. And then we can point to the Soviet Union as an example of what happens when an anti-religious philosophy gets the power to do what it wants to religion:

“The history of Christianity in the Soviet Union was not limited to repression and secularization. Soviet policy toward religion was based on the ideology of Marxism-Leninism, which made atheism the official doctrine of the Soviet Union. Marxism-Leninism has consistently advocated the control, suppression, and, ultimately, the elimination of religious beliefs

Anti-theist and anti-religious views do seem to tend, at times, towards the latter, and some Gnus do seem to be anti-theist and anti-relligion. And if that’s the case, could that attitude spread to these sorts of actions:

“The state was committed to the destruction of religion[2][3], and to this effect it destroyed churches, mosques and temples, ridiculed, harassed and executed religious leaders, flooded the schools and media with atheistic propaganda, and generally promoted ‘scientific atheism’ as the truth that society should accept”

Gnus do seem to promote the last one, and probably aren’t doing the others … yet. Now, they may well never do that, because there may be something else in their make-up that avoids that. But you will forgive people for being skeptical.”

In hindsight, Gnus clearly support ridiculing religious leaders, and do promote a scientific atheism.  Or, at least, most of them do.  The rest they aren’t doing … yet.  But perhaps my age is making me cynical, and I am no longer willing to accept the claim of “Look, you can trust US”.  Especially when they’re pointing out just how bad humanity can be by pointing to the worst abuses of their opponents.  Sorry, but I don’t really see how you’re going to be better than anyone else has been when they’ve gotten the power to do whatever they want; you need to prove that you will be instead of just asserting that it’s something about them that was the problem, but that you lack that.

(Note that I’m posting this because I think it is a good answer to the question of why fundamentalism bothers people and I’m not sure it will appear there.  I’m not saying anything about the moderation there, nor complaining that it has not yet appeared, nor presuming that it never will.  But at least if it doesn’t I’ll have what I said so I don’t have to look it all up again to post it.)

Why I Now Own a PS3 …

April 27, 2011

The Latest Not-So-Casual Commentary is here:

Questions and Answers: Why are there contradictions in the Easter story?

April 24, 2011

So, as is appropriate for today, I’d like to answer the question of why the four NT accounts of the Resurrection contradict each other.

The answer to this is, of course simple if you treat the Gospels as histories:  they’re historical accounts formed by personal accounts sometimes gathered after years and from second-hand sources.  These things always have contradictions.

And yet, this answer never seems to satisfy those who raise the question, and I’m not sure why.  Or, rather, I guess I am sure why:  these people have, in fact, bought into the idea that the Bible is literally the Word of God — in all cases — and therefore cannot be treated like a history.  It, instead, has to be treated specially, and thus must be especially accurate or else it just doesn’t count as the Bible anymore.

The problem is that, as far as I know, few actually claim that about the Gospels.  The Gospels are supposed to be accounts of Jesus’ life, from various sources.  John’s is supposed to be an account from one of the apostles, and the others — if I recall correctly — are supposed to be the work of archivists and researchers.  I don’t think it would really change Christianity at all to say that these are accounts and so should be treated like historical texts; in fact, it seems to me that Christians should welcome that, since history is about finding out if people existed and events really happened, and that’s what the claim is about Jesus.

It seems to me that the only case for literalism is in things like Genesis, things that are historical but could only come from God, or in cases where God is outlining philosophy and particularly talking about things like morality.  The Gospels are not generally such cases nor are they intended to be, and the Easter Story is clearly not of that type.

Thus, we should treat it like we’d treat historical texts.  And that means two things:

1) The only contradictions that one can use to claim that the story is false must be particularly important ones, not ones that one might expect to get distorted over time or due to personal views.

2) We can reconcile these by applying methods to determine what in light of all accounts seems more likely.

To demonstrate how this works, I’m going to look at the four contradictions cited here:

“Who were the women?
Matthew: Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (28:1)
Mark: Mary Magdalene, the mother of James, and Salome (16:1)
Luke: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and other women (24:10)
John: Mary Magdalene (20:1)

Who was at the tomb when they arrived?
Matthew: One angel (28:2-7)
Mark: One young man (16:5)
Luke: Two men (24:4)
John: Two angels (20:12)

After the women, to whom did Jesus first appear?
Matthew: Eleven disciples (28:16)
Mark: Two disciples in the country, later to eleven (16:12,14)
Luke: Two disciples in Emmaus, later to eleven (24:13,36)
John: Ten disciples (Judas and Thomas were absent) (20:19, 24)
Paul: First to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve. (Twelve? Judas was dead). (I Corinthians 15:5)

Did Jesus stay on earth for a while?
Mark: No (16:19) Compare 16:14 with John 20:19 to show that this was all done on Sunday
Luke: No (24:50-52) It all happened on Sunday
John: Yes, at least eight days (20:26, 21:1-22)
Acts: Yes, at least forty days (1:3)”

Answering 1), only the last question might be considered substantive, if it impacts certain discussions.  So the other three are clearly unimportant.  But I’ll apply 2) to them anyway.

1)   One could try to argue from which is likely to be more accurate, but there’s an easier answer here if one considers that some of the accounts might simply not mention all of them or might have gotten the information from sources that missed some out.  Thus, I’d reasonably say that you should take the most inclusive one, and that’s a combination of Luke and Mark.  Note that Luke even says “other women” explicitly.  So this makes it consistent; any specifically named woman was there, and the other accounts simply didn’t mention others due to some sort of tunnel vision.  Thus, it is quite easy to make this contradiction consistent.

2)  Since angels appear, one presumes, as young men, that’s a contradiction that’s easy to resolve.  The number is a little harder, and you could make a case for either side; someone just heard the numbers wrong.  But I’d probably align with two for the same reasons as the above, but introducting the counting issue allows for either interpretation to work.  Thus, again, not contradictory as long as we conclude quite reasonably that two of the accounts got the numbers wrong for some reason.

3) Let’s drop Paul out for an instant, but note the “Twelve” complaint is a really bad one, easily accrued to a simple misstatement or a use of a terminology.  The Gospel accounts are all fairly close, except for the story of Doubting Thomas.  However, again noting that “the Eleven” need not be a number, but simply reflect a title for the group, that’s not an issue.  You may have, say, a Quorum of Twelve and you don’t stop calling it that if a couple don’t show up.  Matthew, then, simply missed one account.  Thus, still consistent.

4)  The interesting thing to note here is that Luke is supposedly the author of both Acts and his own Gospel, and those contradict.  I’m not going to challenge the authorship here — although this contradiction might be a way to do so — and assume that he is.  I’ll also assume, then, that he’d have noticed if there was a contradiction in his own works (not always safe, but it’s not unreasonable).  Thus, he would have known that Jesus supposedly “left” on the Sunday and then also appeared over the span of 40 days.  Which means that he couldn’t have meant there that Jesus actually left, and all that is described is Jesus rising into heaven.  Which doesn’t mean that Jesus could not have appeared to people after that point, but that his “resurrection” was completed by that action. As there’s nothing stopping him from reappearing, the contradiction here is only in assuming that after the rising into heaven that meant that Jesus would be gone forever and never appear again.  Since that assumption is unwarranted, there is no contradiction here.

And thus I have resolved the four contradictions here in what I think is the correct way.  I might, however, be wrong.  And that, in fact, is what’s fun about history … and philosophy.

Questions and Answers: Why did Jesus have to sacrifice himself for our sins?

April 24, 2011

This question would have been more appropriate for Good Friday, but, well, I got lazy [grin].

Anyway, one of the most commonly asked questions for Christians about Christianity surrounds the crucifixtion.  Presumably, Jesus died for all of our sins, and as some sort of payment for Original Sin.  But there are a few questions about this.  This was a sin that we had made against God (presumably) and Jesus is, in fact, also part of God and certainly sent from God.  Why is God sending someone to make up for something that we did, and that Jesus didn’t do?  If we were the ones who committed the sin, why is our role basically to be ones who commit the next sin and actually kill Jesus?  Why would God send his son and have us kill Him before He’ll forgive us?  Shouldn’t we be the ones sacrificed or making reparations?  And, heck, why couldn’t God just forgive us, instead of going through what looks like a charade?  What purpose did Jesus’ death serve?

These are good questions, and I think to start answering them you have to look at a theme that is indeed prevalent in the New Testament from the being:  Jesus’ humanity.

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all describe the temptation of Jesus in the desert, where He goes off and is tempted by the devil, rejecting the temptations every time.  However, in order for this story to have meaning, it has to be the case that Jesus was tempted and really tempted by the temptations.  The devil surely would not have tried to tempt Jesus if he knew that Jesus was simply going to be completely unmoved by temptation.  And note that the temptations are human ones, and ones that we’d all have to face:  the material (you’re hungry, so make yourself some bread), the doubtful (test God to prove God real) and the powerful (I’ll give you the power to rule the world if you change sides).  This, to me, is the first indication of the humanity of Jesus, and it is quite early (^ Matthew 4:1-11, New International Version, ^ Mark 1:12-13, NIV, ^ Luke 4:1-13, NIV) in all the editions.  This humanity carries on throughout the NT.  Jesus gets angry, cursing a fig tree and driving the money changers from the Temple.  While a lot of the focus is on teaching, there is an undercurrent of Jesus’ humanity all the way through the NT.

And all of this culminates in the ultimate example of Jesus’ humanity:  the Garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus knows that He is going to suffer and die.  And He prays to avoid it.  Theoretically, Jesus himself could avoid it, and it’s clear that He’d really like to avoid it.  But He puts it all in God’s hands, and sticks it out to the end, through all the suffering, and even unto death.

So you might be asking at this point “Okay, sure, Jesus’ humanity is important in the NT … but how does this answer the question?”.  My thought is that Jesus was not sent to be a sacrifice, but instead to be an example to us.  Yes, Jesus — being the Son of God — is better than us, but He is also human.  He knows and experiences what we, in fact, experience.  He fears what we fear; He feels the pains we feel; He desires what we desire.  All of these can, in fact, lead to us sinning; we sin because we are afraid, because we will feel pain if we don’t, and because we want things that are sinful.  Being human, as I’ve already said, Jesus knows all that … and He asks us to put being moral — ie not sinning; I’m more a philosopher about morality than a theologian — ahead of those things, just as He did.

And He did it in dramatic fashion.  The suffering that He experienced is far more than most of us will experience, and He even went so far as to take the ultimate step, and die for morality.  Being Stoic-leaning, of course this idea of morality appeals to me, since it is pretty much in line with what they argue.  Ultimately, the call is that you do the right thing, no matter what pain or suffering it brings you, and even if it kills you.  And the right thing for Jesus was, in fact, to be that model and demonstrate that principle in an undeniable form.

And, to me, this is what really indicates the split between the OT and the NT.  The OT was about following the rules out of fear, and really was about simple obedience.  But the OT was a far more brutal world than the world of the NT (even though that world was pretty bad itself).  There were many gods, and many fights over gods, and you pretty much had to browbeat people into sticking with your god (see Exodus and the Golden Calf for an example of that.)  But the Roman Empire was, in fact, fairly tolerant of other religions and imposed law and order on the conquered nations.  Comparatively speaking, the Roman Empire was fairly civilized.  And in this case, a shift in morality could occur, from simply following the rules to doing more things just because they were right, with less emphasis on rules and more emphasis on compassion.  The Golden Rule is the prime example of the new morality, and Jesus was quite firm on the idea that simply following rules and rituals was not the right way to be religious.

But without the fear of God, a new example needed to be given to ensure that people didn’t just give in to temptation, and Jesus was that example.  And He did what was right, and was rewarded for it, and it is promised that we too will be rewarded for it.

Ultimately, Jesus’ death serves to provide us with the example of the new morality, and to cement the demand that while we may not be perfect we should strive for Jesus’ willingness to put even our most extreme desires aside in the service of what is morally right.  And that, then, is why Jesus had to die on the cross for our sins.

(Note:  Anyone who wants to argue against this on the basis that I need to prove that God or Jesus exists will be summarily ignored; when doing Christian theology and explaining what it means, it is ludicrous to insist that I have to continually preface my statements with “If they’re right”.  The question has an implicit “If they’re right” in it, and thus it is entirely fair to have an implicit “If they’re right” in the answer.)

Activation …

April 18, 2011

John over at gameguiders made this article about activations, picking up similar themes to what Shamus Young doesn’t like about activation:

And I think this drives, for me, something that gaming companies miss about stopping piracy:

The easiest way to stop piracy is to make it so that the legitimate version of the game is better than the pirated version.

There are tons of ways to do this.  You can add little knick-knacks and collectibles to the boxed version of the game so that people want to buy the real game.  You can make getting it more convenient (if you go with a downloadable version of the game).  You can add nice printed manuals that are very convenient for users (and hey, whatever happened to keyboard overlays anyway) and add background story.  You can add downloadable content that you can only get if you officially register or activate online.  And other ways that I can’t think of at the moment.

But things like activations (that might run out) or intensely painful copy protection systems make the legitimate version more annoying don’t help.  Sure, if they actually stopped piracy they’d be great, but I think that pretty much everyone understands by now that that isn’t going to happen.  And so you annoy legitimate users to try to stop illegitimate ones, but all that does is drive legitimate users into become pirates since it makes the annoyances of piracy much less than the annoyances of the legitimate version.

Give me a reason to buy a legitimate version, and don’t punish me for buying a legitimate version.  That’s all I ask.

My Top Ten Best Female Characters.

April 18, 2011

The latest Not-So-Casual Commentary is up:

The interesting thing is that, just for fun, I tried thinking about who would be on the list if I listed my top ten best male characters … and couldn’t come up with very many.  Okay, sure, Yuri from Shadow Hearts would be there.  And probably Geddoe from Suikoden III.   But after that it was really difficult to find anyone.  I think the reason for this is that in most Western-style RPGs, the most interesting male character is the main character, but that character is you, and so is set a lot by what you decide and how you want to be.  And so they’re quite generic except for what you bring to the character.  And in JRPGs, the main character might be less generic but then might be less interesting as a character, depending on what you like.

Why Are There So Few Female Protagonists?

April 13, 2011

My latest Not-So-Casual Commentary is up: