Who Should Tone Down the Rhetoric? May 7, 2009

Who Should Tone Down the Rhetoric?

Donna recently spent the weekend with several evangelical Christian friends. Religion and politics was discussed, but there was no fighting, name-calling, yelling, etc.

I’m sure that’s the case for most of us. Even when serious topics on are the table, friends can find a way to talk about them without resorting to the kind of rhetoric you see so often on television news shows.

Why is that? Maybe it has to do with the notion of “others.” We don’t mind getting worked up when we’re talking to people we don’t care about. But when we’re among friends, we don’t let our emotions get the best of us.

The liberals (including most atheists) are terrorized by the idea that the religious right is going to make our country a theocracy and take all of our rights away the conservatives (including many Christians) are afraid the progressives are out to destroy morality, eliminate religious freedom, and take all of our rights away. Both positions are ridiculous in the extreme.

The scary part is that if we keep going in this cycle, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Someone has to tone down the rhetoric first. I want to be part of the group that spreads reason and hope instead of buying into fear mongering…

This is one of the reasons I think we should be working together with our religious allies (and we do have them). There are many people on the other side of the fence who agree with us when it comes to church/state separation issues, science education, a woman’s right to choose, etc. Too often, we include them in our condemnation of religion.

Our focus should be on the people who are trying to Christianize the nation, politicize churches, and take away the rights of others.

And even when we deal with them, we can lower the decibels and stick to the facts instead of leveling insults their way. We know how they act in church — louder is better. The more fanatical you are in the pulpit, the more donations you get. We shouldn’t have to stoop to their level.

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  • Part of the reason you see lively, heated debate on television shows is because of the entertainment factor. For example, no reasonable person watches Fox News to get information. It’s entertainment, first and foremost. People tend to tune in to controversy. It’s exciting.

  • Somero

    I try to do my best to keep my emotions in check when having lively discussion, and I often end them if I feel they are getting too heated.

    Harder to win someone over when they feel insulted.

  • Christina

    I like this blog because of its civil tone. Thanks for the reminder and encouragement to seek common ground rather than yell about extremists.

  • Great post! Thanks for the reminder Hemant. I totally agree.

  • Aj

    Seems like a strawman to me, it doesn’t seem plausible to me that the religious right could gain the power nationally to control congress and the senate. Either that or bloody insurrection, and that also seems fanciful. Most atheists in America believe this is going to happen? Poll data please.

    The religious that agree with atheists on secularism, education, and abortion aren’t above condemnation. That shouldn’t get in the way of working towards common goals together. They often espouse views that I completely disagree with, but that wouldn’t get in the way of working towards common goals for me.

  • Richard Wade

    Thanks for this positive post. I sometimes get very discouraged by all the crazy stuff that the extremists do, like that jingoistic pack of lies, the Manual for American Jihad, a.k.a. the American Patriot’s Bible. I need to be reminded that they are the minority of Christians.

    I very much want to be part of constructive, face to face discussions with our religious allies.

  • penguinsaur

    “The liberals (including most atheists) are terrorized by the idea that the religious right is going to make our country a theocracy and take all of our rights away ”

    thats so absurd, now I’m gonna go get fired from a job and never get married, but atleast its been a whole 6 years since they arrested people for being gay.

  • James H

    In addition to policy, I should point out that it’s also possible to debate fundamentals. A couple of times now, a friend and I have had quite interesting encounters exploring some basic permutations of the proofs of God’s existence. We approach from totally different ends (he’s a Christian, I’m atheist), but we’re fairly civilized about the matter because we’re more interested in turning over these proofs in our head and examining religion’s role in society than we are in shouting down each other or in denigrating beliefs.

  • Yeh, my friends are pro-life and probably against gay marriage (we didn’t discuss that topic-yet). On the surface we disagree on just about everything, but scratch through the facade and I discover that they actually agree with me on many things, even though they are self-proclaimed conservatives and I am self-proclaimed to be “so liberal there is no political party for me in the US.”

    I think dialog is good particularly because people need to hear the other side of issues from sane sources. I don’t want the only things my friends know about atheists and liberals to come from Fox News. And because I was a born-again Christian for many years, I know the information available on most atheist blogs and news sources is also skewed.

    I recently got in touch with a lot of my old fundy friends. During my deconversion process and for a long time after that, I couldn’t keep in touch. I needed a clean break. But now, after getting back in touch, I realize that I liked these people and they were my friends for a reason — not just because we went to the same church or shared the same beliefs.

    In my recent discussions, I don’t think I’ve changed anyone’s mind about anything and they certainly haven’t changed my mind. (I’m at the advantage though, because I used to be where they are and I understand their mindset and belief system.) But I hope that with more communication, I can break through the barriers of fear just a little bit and help them see that their current conservative political leanings are not truly reflections of their values.

    I am really more concerned about people’s politics than whether or not they believe in God.

  • Thanks for this post!

  • Seabhag

    Living in the ‘heart of darkness’ as I do. I can’t honestly agree with you Hemant. I’m surrounded by family and people all over who would be quite happy to see a theocracy. Who are willing to dismiss any science that disagrees with their pre-conceived ideas. I’ve even been told by my father that: I not only am not allowed to discuss problems I have with the Bible/Christianity with anyone else in the family, I’m also not allowed to discuess any of the science behind an old universe because it is ‘irrelivent’ and might lead my family to ‘question’ YEC.

    For the record, I rent a detatched studio apartment on my parent’s property while I finish up my masters in chemistry. So I’m with the family a lot.

    On one hand, I know in their deluded way my folks ‘love’ me. But, on the other hand, they hate my professional choice, my evidence-based view of the world. In essence, everything that makes me, ‘me’. Because it disagrees with their pre-conceived notions of how the world works.

    I quite litterly live in a place where if the people around me had their way we’d see gay marriage not only “not” be legal. It’d be a crime. Where abortion doctors would face the death penalty for providing abortions. Pharmacists who sold birth-control pills for any reason (other than hormone imbalance) or Plan B pills would be jailed. A place were scientific thought is assumed to be looking to disprove god.

    When your back is shoved as far back against the wall as mine is here. I can’t agree with any of the atheists or atheist groups who want to have ‘work together with our religious allies’. In my experience we don’t have any. They are all part of the same delusion. Sure some of them aren’t as far down that slider. But, when you take a step back and look at the entirty of ‘faith’; in my opinion the ‘liberal’ Christians are no better than their zealot conservative counterparts who’d send us back to the Dark Ages so they didn’t have to be exposed to modern critical thinking and science. In my opinion, it is a fight for survival when pushing back against people like my family and their friends.

  • Seabhag

    All that said. Hermant, I really do appreciate the ‘friendly atheist’ tack you take here. Being in a place where I feel counstantly hounded by the ultra-conservatives it’s nice to see someone who appreciates the evidence based view of the world, but who doesn’t appear to constantly be under attack. Its a glimmer of hope that maybe the rest of the world isn’t as bad as it is here. I move in July to the East Coast to work on my PhD so I hope to find out then.

  • jamboh

    Pope warns of misuse of religion – http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/8041421.stm

    What next?
    Paedophiles warn of the dangers of child molestation?
    Landmine manufacturers warn of the dangers of explosives?

    Unbelievable, sanctimonious hypocrisy!!!!

  • I agree that our focus should be on the religious extremists. I disagree, however, that toning down the rhetoric is in our best interests right now. I’m not sure this would have worked for the women’s movement or the gay rights movement.

  • DeafAtheist

    I don’t agree with toning down the rhetoric. You have to be loud or you’ll just be ignored. I don’t think the civil rights movement, or the women’s equality movement, or the LGBT movement would have gain the ground it has by toning down the rhetoric.

    I don’t know how absurd the notion of this country moving towards a theocracy really is. Perhaps not with Obama in office, but with Bush in office the past 8 years this country was the closest it’s been to a theocracy in history. You can even randomly ask any Christian whether or not he or she believes that the US was founded as a Christian nation and 9 out of 10 will say it is.

    Without atheist bus campaigns, or the exhaustive work of groups like the FFRF fighting on the front lines for civil liberties we should all be equally entitled to the movement wouldn’t be more than a whisper.

    Even today most Christians probably don’t even personally know an atheist and regardless of whether they do or not they have common misconceptions about atheism.

    Sometimes you just need a pair of spurs to get your horse to move or else you’re not going to get anywhere.

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