Should Atheists Promote the Interfaith Movement? October 26, 2010

Should Atheists Promote the Interfaith Movement?

The current edition of the Secular Student Alliance newsletter has a debate on the topic of atheist cooperation in the interfaith community.

Jason C. Romero is the Co-President of Interfaith Atheists Agnostics & Humanists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and he believes atheist cooperation in interfaith groups is a good thing:

… when most people think of secular individuals, or at least hear the word atheist, what typically comes to mind is someone who is stubbornly overcritical of religion and who carries oneself with an unjustifiably smug air of authority. Our involvement in interfaith groups lets others know that this stereotype does not apply to all of us, and the argument for being involved to a great extent is a result of the sheer amount of work it is going to take to undo the myths surrounding the homogeny of secular folks.

Opposing Jason is Ed Clint, president of the Illini Secular Student Alliance at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He doesn’t think atheists should join interfaith councils.

Actually, he doesn’t believe anyone should join interfaith councils.

Interfaith activities unify, support, and foster religious groups that actively oppose equal rights and other pluralistic initiatives. Given the choice, interfaith members will always choose faith over reason as a means to achieve social progress. Major interfaith organizations remained silent as churches and groups poured money into California in 2008 to pass Proposition 8, which constitutionally defined marriage as between a man and a woman. The interfaith movement refuses to concern itself with critical, relevant issues, such as stem cell research, sex education, women’s rights, and U.S. educational standards… No atheist of conscience can make him- or herself part of an interfaith organization that willfully refuses to even discuss such egregious affronts to human dignity and human rights condoned or directly caused by faith-based organizations.

I lean more toward Clint’s side. My biggest problem is that interfaith groups always want to strengthen the faith of the participants. It’s my goal to weaken everybody’s faith. Interfaith proponents don’t want to hear religious criticism and (in my experience) they wince when atheists call out various religious groups for the injustices they perpetrate.

I have said repeatedly that there are many areas in which people of different faiths and no faith can — and should — work together. But I have yet to see an interfaith group that embraces atheists (and our views of faith) as much as they embrace the panoply of theists and their nonsensical beliefs.


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  • Synapse

    I will agree with Jason on this one – try AAIM – Austin Area Inter-religious Ministries. (Interfaith Action of Central Texas)

    * Red bench discussions about Islam, Zeal, etc.

    * They help fix up existing houses with their Raise the Roof project.

    Right now, atheists don’t have a seat at the social table overall. This is one of the groups that provides an opportunity for Atheists / Humanists to get a foot in the door and be seen as a real human being.

    Interfaith activities that do good for the sake of good help to showcase that:

    * Religion is not the sole motivator for doing good.
    * Atheists are not fundamentalists, refusing to work with well-meaning others in their community.

  • To participate in interfaith groups one kind of has to play-along with the notion that atheism is “just another religion” or denomination. It would be like atheists are so pure in their notion of god that they disavow any human idolistic representation like revelation, holy books, worship, or even existence. Is that the definition that we want?

  • Eskomo

    Being a member of an interfaith group that remains silent rather than endorsing something you oppose is still acceptable. You can still be a member of other groups that endorse something for which you agree.

  • Hitch

    I’m two ways about this. I believe in real dialogue and inclusiveness. So I do like something like “interfaith” though I think the word is itself already biased towards “between faiths” hence encodes a tacit exclusion of the secular.

    But I’m more concerned with the reality of the some of the most active interfaith initiatives. Eboo Patel’s notion of interfaith is pro-religious and if one managed to be honest about it, quite hostile towards atheism (as promoted by Chris Stedmen too).

    This isn’t inclusive dialogue. It’s an attempt to unify faiths almost against secularization.

    Atheists are not treated as partners but at best a group that is tolerated.

    Just the current premise of these initiatives isn’t on the right foot.

    I think what we need is participation and dialogue, but rejection of all the tacit stuff. Like that faith comes first and atheists have to meet certain conditions (not speak about the non-existence of gods too loudly for example) to be merely tolerated let alone invited.

    Some of the interfaith initiatives I see seem to be more concerned about protecting the already hegemonic faith groups, and not about real pluralism, dialogue and cooperation. In the latter the statement “there is 3 gods” has the same standing as the the statement that “there isn’t even one”. But that is the crux of it all. Atheism implies denying religious people one of their most dearly held conceptions. And it takes quite a bit of greatness to be able to do the pluralism think in that context. Atheist, being the minority, not only deal with this already, we are have to struggle against the exclusionist tendencies of the faithful.

    So I kind of see both sides. I’d just say that we need much more open, smart and aware and inclusive “interfaith”/pluralism advocates than we have. Those that do not have these tendencies to peck at atheists or participate in the standard stereotyping.

  • Ali

    I’m with Ed Clint.

    “…when most people think of secular individuals, or at least hear the word atheist, what typically comes to mind is someone who is stubbornly overcritical of religion and who carries oneself with an unjustifiably smug air of authority.”

    Um… no. This is the argument religious people make in order to discredit the opposing argument.

    Interfaith groups, I’ve noticed, always lean more towards faith rather than reason.

  • If you’re not a person of faith, and feel faith itself is delusion, why would you join an interfaith movement? It just doesn’t seem to work on a pretty basic level.

  • Richard L

    It’s OK for religious communities to join together in interfaith clubs if they wish to – I mean no one of faith can really posit any argument why their faith is better than the rest’s, and in such a stalemate joining together to strengthen one-another’s faith seems reasonable.

    Atheists, on the other hand, have arguments that posit a threat to faith, namely that it’s a useless construct that causes more harm than if people would just accept the world as it is, that evidence-based reality always triumph over fantasy and that believing in something, when there is nothing to believe in, is just plain crazy.

    For these reasons I think atheists should stay away from interfaith groups.

  • I don’t think that an interfaith group is an appropriate place for nonbelievers, largely for the reason Jeff P cites. We’re not operating on faith, we’re not pro-faith, and it’s just a bad fit.

    My experience of religious people who join interfaith groups is that they are trying to work across sectarian lines to work on areas of mutual agreement, usually peace and social justice. I’m all for that. I’m not really familiar with the kind of anti-secular interfaith alliances that Hitch describes, but I can’t say I’m terribly surprised to hear about them. It does feel a bit like they’re saying, “It doesn’t matter what religion people believe in, but they need to believe in a religion!” and we should feel free to point out the intellectual dishonesty of that position.

  • Parse

    The problem with local interfaith groups near me is that they always seem to be between umpteen different flavors of protestants. I would support joining interfaith groups if their goal is more “Beneath our religion, we’re all humans and can work together,” not “Beneath our religion, we’re all Protestants and working together for the greater glory of our God.”

  • Danny Wuvs Kittens

    I also side with Clint. I resent agnostics(depending on the reason they choose that title over atheist) as well as the “religion can be good or bad, let sleeping dog’s lie, religion doesn’t make people evil, its just an excuse for evil people, etc.” crowd.

    I hate to borrow a phrase from WBC, but they’re faith-enablers. I see them as posers, and they just participate to be more popular. I can understand someone not wanting the title atheist, but you don’t need that title, just say you don’t believe in any gods or religion, or that you’re a humanist.

    I’m tired of this pantheism/deism bullshit. If you genuinely believe it, then fine, but don’t give religion a lip service, because there’s a lot of people who are being hurt by it, and when someone endorses it at all, even on the side, it gives power to the fundie crowd, and then you’ve got more kids crying, awake at night, because they aren’t 100% sure that they won’t be burned alive for eternity.

    Sorry, but not all beliefs are equal and, while people deserve respect, their beliefs don’t. Ten-thousand Neo-Nazis cause less societal damage than two-hundred Southern Baptists, and I’ll stand by that statement.

    If you’re just wanting more social reputation for atheists, then get involved in charities or just be a good person. Joining an interfaith organization to help remove the stigma is not a good reason. Try again.

  • Bubba

    IMHO It is the theists who foster the image of Atheists being critical and arrogant. Atheists should be moving 180 degrees away from theism not towards it. Meeting them halfway is like enabling an alcoholic to drink verses helping them find solutions to abstaining.
    Of course the critical part of me says: If ever a theocracy gets established into our government it will be the Atheists that will be imprisoned first, there will not be any cooperation with non-faith institutions, only revenge and retribution.
    Lastly, I don’t see the “sheer amount of work” it takes to explain to someone the difference between myths and reality. Unless of course those people’s reality is based entirely in myth, but then that work should be left to a psychiatrist.
    Wow I guess I am critical and arrogant after all.

  • I tend to side with Clint as well, not because I necessarily agree that Southern Baptists are the equivalent to or worse than Neo-Nazis (I don’t) but because every inter-faith group I have seen sees opposition to secularization as its primary mission. If they oppose secularization, atheists really have nothing to contribute and won’t be allowed any meaningful part in the discussion anyway.

  • “when most people think of secular individuals…what typically comes to mind is someone…who carries oneself with an unjustifiably smug air of authority.”

    That’s weird – that’s what comes to mind when I think of religious individuals.

  • Neon Genesis

    The Secular Student Alliance has obviously never heard of the Interfaith Alliance: http://www.interfaithalliance.org/

  • The interfaithalliance.org website says the following:

    Database Error: Unable to connect to the database:Could not connect to MySQL

    I guess the gods are not smiling on them 😉

  • Miko

    I don’t think it matters that they don’t discuss certain issues. We can always discuss those issues elsewhere. In theory, I think that atheists being involved with such groups is a great idea. Unfortunately, in practice I’ve found that they always seem a little bit hostile towards the atheists and the involvement always turns into an unpleasant experience. I recommend giving it a try, but being prepared to be disappointed.

    Danny:

    Ten-thousand Neo-Nazis cause less societal damage than two-hundred Southern Baptists, and I’ll stand by that statement.

    This is an idiotic thing to say.

  • Hitch

    MySQL > faith.

  • Neon Genesis

    “The interfaithalliance.org website says the following:

    Database Error: Unable to connect to the database:Could not connect to MySQL

    I guess the gods are not smiling on them”

    The link works fine for me. The Interfaith Alliance is basically the progressive Christian version of the FFRF and they work to promote separation of church and state. The president of Interfaith Alliance, Rev Gaddy, was a former president of Americans United For Separation of Church and State. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interfaith_Alliance#Views

    “The Interfaith Alliance realizes the powerful role that religion plays in America, and it values the positive impact that religious belief can have on American politics. However, The Interfaith Alliance’s concern is that religion and the United States government are becoming dangerously entangled. TIA believes that religion is being manipulated as a tool to influence policy and advance political strategy. The Interfaith Alliance works to ensure the sanctity of religion and the integrity of politics. The group also supports an end to discrimination based on sexual orientation.”

  • @Neon Genesis,

    It sounds like they do have some worthy objectives.

    I agree that certain political parties play the religious for votes.

  • Robert

    Danny,

    I’ll bite- 200 Southern Baptists can cause more societal damage then 10,000 Neo Nazis in what way?

    I agree- that is a idiotic thing to say.

  • Tim

    We should certainly support interfaith tolerance and cooperation, and our unique position as unbiased in all religious matters affords us great potential as impartial mediators. However, we should take care to avoid falling into the trap of pluralism; interfaith dialogue should be considered a step towards shaking off the shackles of religion for good.

  • I say we should take a seat at that discussion. We need people getting used to hearing us reasonably chime in on whatever it is.

    I’m an atheist and I know it’s not a religion but what a religion is means different things to different people. If a religious type thinks I’m part of a religion, then give me a seat at that table and let’s talk about it.

  • Steve

    Religion has a positive impact on politics? I really hope they only put that in there to appease Christians/Republicans and don’t seriously think that.

  • flawedprefect

    I lean towards Jason’s side. While I concede – atheism is a position one takes to be without any sort of faith (therefore, not really being a “faith” to be interacting with other faiths… kinda like being a non-football fan at a game) I do see the merit in being in a position to dispell a few myths surrounding our community, and also show that we can be decent people without faith in the supernatural. If we remain absent from this cause, we may ad fuel to existing myths, and may be absent from such opportunities to put concerns to rest. Could you imagine a group of people who are only believers discussing non-believers? By not having a presence, we would automatically be an “other” to easily pick on. I think we need to be there, if only to show we are people too.

  • Sean

    I guess there’s a few reasons that I’d be hesitant about this. One is that “interfaith” dialog sometimes seems to focus on the things we all supposedly share, like faith and belief in a higher power and… you get the picture. Someone who talks about not needing those things is going to be undermining (or perceived as undermining) the shared values that foster unity and cohesion in the group. But if they don’t do that, they are really just being the token irreligious person, not representing any particular viewpoint at all.

    I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing atheists in interfaith groups, but some groups that call themselves interfaith might still have trouble not seeing the atheist as an outsider, as someone who doesn’t think “faith” is necessary at all.

    It might be all right for someone like Jacob who can talk about the valuable things he sees coming out of religion. As a person who started to regard faith as an absurd vice even before deconverting, I would have much more trouble balancing the need to be honest and the need to fit in.

    If I wanted to have a dialog with the religious, I’d much rather do it in an environment where I felt comfortable arguing with people and that doing so would not be seen as needlessly contrarian or impact any larger goal. If I wanted to be involved in charity or activism, I would greatly prefer a group where religion was as much as possible ignored (the exception being when the “activism” was regarding separation of church and state, in which case I’d stick with political science and philosophy rather than epistemology).

    TL;DR I’m all for dialog between atheists and the religious (in fact I find it fun, and I’ve gone to churches from time to time as an observer), but as for charitable/political organizations, I prefer those that are either explicitly irreligious or don’t make a big deal out of members’ beliefs one way or the other.

  • My university’s SSA chapter is essentially the atheist club, so the bulk of our members have just moved to create a separate group that will be the atheist club (meeting concurrently, for now)

    There’s definitely room and a need for collaboration and dialogue between faith groups and atheists, but it seems to work best when the collaboration is centered around a particular cause, such as separation of church and state. A “generic” interfaith group comes together in shared faith and then around matters related to it, but we come to the table as critics of faith.

  • Claudia

    @Danny, you’ve insulted agnostics, deists, pantheists and especially Southern Baptists (holy Godwin Batman!). That’s pretty efficient. I wonder is what you dislike about baptists the most is their intolerance…

    As to the subject at hand, I’m agnostic on the matter. I guess it depends on the issue. I think that if it’s a matter of coordinating resources for concrete steps to help people; disaster relief, medical care, feeding the homeless etc. then I have absolutely no problem with interfaith collaboration, just as long as religion isn’t integral to it and there is no discrimination involved anywhere in the process.

    If its more about just talking to one another and saying how all religions are good and such else, while it is an improvement over “you’re all going to hellllll” I would just as soon stay away. Our very foundation is that we reject the notion that faith is a virtue. Interfaith “any faith is good” intiatives are contrary to that philosophy and I wouldn’t want to participate in them, even if I’m sure I’d find most of the participants themselves lovely loving people.

  • Dan W

    I agree with much of what Ed Clint said. Besides, interfaith groups tend to support strengthening their members’ religious faith, while I as an atheist tend to think religious faith is a bad thing. I am in favor of people questioning their faith and I’d rather promote tolerance through secular organizations.

  • I agree with Hemant on most of what he says — I think “interfaith” is a lot like “bipartisan” in that it sounds really nice, but when applied practically, it usually just winds up being “let’s find a scapegoat to hate on so we can make our own differences look small by comparison.”

    However, I really find this line out of place:

    My biggest problem is that interfaith groups always want to strengthen the faith of the participants. It’s my goal to weaken everybody’s faith.

    It sounds…unusually hostile. I understand Hemant has undergone somewhat of a sharpening of his ideology lately, but I’ve been paying close attention to his recent postings and what I find troubling about a lot of them is not that he’s becoming more outspoken (that, I like), but rather that he seems to be becoming more and more deliberately hostile. Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand the principles behind hostility to religion in general, but from where comments like that stand, it’s only a small leap to basing entire relationships on whether or not a person is religious. I think that’s a bad idea because it actually encourages sectarianism and “othering.”

    I do believe there are times to be hostile and “take a stand,” but I also believe that we should try and focus on what we have in *common* with believers, not just what separates us.

    I guess what I mean is, by all means should Hemant continue to be more outspoken, but I implore him to please, please PLEASE avoid turning into Christopher Hitchens. Not that there’s anything wrong with Hitchens, just that I (and a lot of people I know) have come to expect something a little more positive and different from Hemant.

  • Not that there’s anything wrong with Hitchens, just that I (and a lot of people I know) have come to expect something a little more positive and different from Hemant.

    Just out of curiosity, what would you rather hear me say? 🙂

  • Neon Genesis

    I wonder if Hemant has been jealous of the popularity of PZ’s blog and is trying to copy PZ’s style.

  • Sean

    @Tim

    While I noticed that line too, I think that it’s not all that different from saying

    It’s my goal to challenge everybody’s faith.

    which is a line that could very well be uttered by a Christian (in fact I’m positive I’ve heard almost those exact words from Christians). The basic idea in both cases is the same; make someone think harder about what they believe, and make them aware that they don’t necessarily have all the answers.

    I guess “weaken” has much more negative connotations, but honestly, if you don’t think that faith is a good thing, weakening someone’s faith is not really a hostile act, is it?

  • Sean

    To give credit where credit is due, certain religious and interfaith groups just filed a lovely brief in the Prop 8 case.

  • Price

    NO!

  • Just out of curiosity, what would you rather hear me say? 🙂

    Incoming wall of text!

    With regard to that particular line….if that’s really the way you feel about it (if your goal is sincerely to weaken people’s faith), then of course I think you should say that. I wouldn’t think of asking you to be dishonest.

    It’s not even that I particularly *disagree* with you saying that….it’s more that I’ve been seeing a lot of hostility lately (both from atheists and from fundie Christians and the like), and so I’ve started getting a little antsy any time I see such a generalized statement. It’s oddly similar to Hitchen’s assertion that people of faith (however moderate, extreme, or barely-existent that faith is) are his “enemy.” Does it really have to be like that? Do I really have to take a universal stance “for” or “against” religious belief? And if so, does it have to be “all or nothing, all the time?” I don’t feel like it does.

    Hemant, you’ve read Greg Epstein’s “Good Without God,” right? I was thinking I’d first heard of it here (could be wrong, though). I really liked the way he presented “pluralism” near the end of that book. The basic idea was, yes, we CAN disagree, and we can say, “faith in god is not a good thing” — we don’t have to pretend we like or agree with their beliefs — but also that we don’t have to let that belief be the first and foremost cornerstone of our relationships with religious people or communities. We don’t have to have a prior agenda to go around deliberately trying to break people’s faith. I think the atheist movement as a whole will be much more productive if we focus on doing positive things and stamping out religious influence wherever it threatens that positivity, not focusing on stamping out religion just for the sake of it.

    I guess I just don’t want to see you become one of those guys who lets your desire to “weaken people’s faith” take the place of common decency and manners 😮 Don’t worry though, I’ll always read your blog even if you do get to the PZ threshold, just because I like how skeptical you are about news articles (most people just put up one link and start making crazy assumptions and jumping to conclusions; I’ve always liked that you actually wait and try to contact people and get their side of the story, and stuff like that)! Also, there aren’t many “atheist news” corners….we need a channel like FOX or something. But with facts.

    I guess “weaken” has much more negative connotations, but honestly, if you don’t think that faith is a good thing, weakening someone’s faith is not really a hostile act, is it?

    Turn the chessboard over, though, and look at it this way:

    I guess “convert” has much more negative connotations, but honestly, if you don’t think that atheism is a good thing, trying to convert someone from atheism is not really a hostile act, is it?

    I see your point, and I basically agree, but there’s a part of me that has a problem with using the same logic that Christians use to persecute atheists (“we think we’re right, so that makes it okay to be super-aggressive about it”). I do NOT think, by any means, that the atheist movement as a whole should adopt “desire to destroy people’s religious faith” as a primary directive. I think that would do more harm than good. I think that, even if we ARE right, there is a way to be firm about it while also being humble and understanding — especially considering that many of us (and many of the commenters on this very site) have been there, and know what it’s like.

  • Neon Genesis

    “To give credit where credit is due, certain religious and interfaith groups just filed a lovely brief in the Prop 8 case.”

    Obviously that doesn’t count as real criticism of Prop 8. Only atheists can really criticize Prop 8 and since the churches aren’t atheists, then there is no real criticism from religious believers. My circular logic pwns you (sarcasm)!

  • Sean

    I guess “convert” has much more negative connotations, but honestly, if you don’t think that atheism is a good thing, trying to convert someone from atheism is not really a hostile act, is it?

    Perhaps this makes me unusual among atheists, but I actually am perfectly fine with this logic. That is, I know that there are people that would like me to be a Christian (or a Muslim), and that they would like to (and have tenatively tried to) convert me. For the most part, they’d like to convert every atheist, much like I did when I was a naive fundie tyke.

    That doesn’t bother me, and in fact I think I’m almost asking for it if I go on a rant about atheism. What does bother me is when someone gets obnoxious and won’t leave the issue alone even when I’m tired of discussing it.

    I guess that’s where I’d really draw the line. I just don’t regard trying to persuade people as being a bad thing, no matter what you’re trying to persuade them of, unless your method of “persuasion” involves harassment, haranguing, or force.

    I do NOT think, by any means, that the atheist movement as a whole should adopt “desire to destroy people’s religious faith” as a primary directive.

    I agree because a) I don’t think that atheists should have a single “primary directive” at all and b) to end all faith seems like an extreme and unrealistic goal right now. It doesn’t matter to me whether or not some population of atheists is going to try tackling that though; the end doesn’t bother me, so it’s only particular means that I’d wish to criticize.

  • @Tim D. — I asked not because I’d change what I write but because I don’t think a lot of people would disagree: I want people to lose their faith.

    I think we can work together in certain instances. No doubt some Christian groups are terrific partners on social justice issues.

    But that doesn’t mean they’re right about god. I want to rid them of that belief altogether. Don’t we all? We’d be better off if people stopped beliving in nonsense.

    It doesn’t mean I’m gonna shake a Christian’s hand and say, “Nice to meet you, you ignorant moron.” I’m more interested in seeing where we can work together. But, again, I do think religious belief is irrational.

  • I don’t believe in fighting social causes merely to earn brownie points for atheism.

  • It’s my observation that contact of rank-and-file theists with theists of other
    brands tends to weaken their faith. (Do I have data on this? Does anyone? Not that I know of, but we should be trying hard to generate it.) That said, an interfaith council which actually involves rank-and-filers socializing with other theists and with atheists should help erode blind faith and move them the right direction toward religion. I understand the resistance to have any contact with nutters who believe in leprechauns, but you have to ask what you’re trying to accomplish (less religion) and what makes the bigger positive contribution. If an opportunity social contact with the aforementioned nutters makes a few STOP believing in leprechauns, then that would seem to be the best choice.

  • I guess that’s where I’d really draw the line. I just don’t regard trying to persuade people as being a bad thing, no matter what you’re trying to persuade them of, unless your method of “persuasion” involves harassment, haranguing, or force.

    That’s reasonable. I’m just less inclined myself to try and “deconvert” someone under any circumstances; I guess it’s because I’ve recently been exposed to some people who really do seem to be better off with their beliefs than they were before, people whom I feel it would be a really bad idea to try and “deconvert” just for the sake of deconverting them. I can’t really reason it out at the moment, but something about that just seems wrong to me.

    If you’ll forgive my nerdness for quoting an anime, Rose from the first Fullmetal Alchemist anime says something like this to Edward near the end of the second season, when discussing matters of faith:

    “Not everyone can be as strong as you.”

    I’ve come to the belief that some people genuinely need that crutch. I want to be there to help them realize that they don’t need it, but I don’t want to take it away from them. I want to be passive and careful, and allow them to decide for themselves — and most importantly, not hold it against them if they choose a path I don’t agree with.

    I agree because a) I don’t think that atheists should have a single “primary directive” at all

    I didn’t mean singular primary directive, I just meant that I don’t feel it should be a main goal at all — whether by itself or among other goals.

    @Tim D. — I asked not because I’d change what I write but because I don’t think a lot of people would disagree: I want people to lose their faith.

    Oh, I know 😀 You wouldn’t be much of a blogger if you changed your post just because someone criticized you!

    And I understand what you’re saying….I guess I just have a different skew of things. Like I said above, I’ve had experiences with people who I feel are really doing better now with their beliefs than they were before without them. Even if I feel like their religion is “wrong,” as long as it’s not doing them harm or leading them to do harm to others — and especially if it seems to be helping them — I don’t feel inclined to “want them to lose their faith.” If they do someday, then good for them, and in that sense I agree with you — I think that ultimately, they probably would be better off without their beliefs, because there’s nothing about the way they’ve come to better themselves that requires them to believe — but if believing in that something is what it takes to get them to take their lives seriously, then I don’t feel like it’s my business to concern myself with destroying that. I don’t feel like religious belief, in and of itself, is inherently harmful, even if it is “unreasonable.”

    I mean in no way to imply that you’re wrong for feeling that way; I just disagree that people will always, in principle, be better off without their faith. Some will, and some won’t.

    I think we can work together in certain instances. No doubt some Christian groups are terrific partners on social justice issues.

    But that doesn’t mean they’re right about god. I want to rid them of that belief altogether. Don’t we all? We’d be better off if people stopped beliving in nonsense.

    That’s true, very true! Although I do have a sort of “deep down” belief that people would leave their religions, I just don’t “care” actively about it as much. I have specific problems with religion and faith, regarding specific aspects and issues. If any person’s religious beliefs do not consist of one or more of those problems, then I see no harm in leaving it be for now. I try to only challenge beliefs when they cause problems in some way, and even then, only the part that’s causing problems. If that leads to a collapse of faith, then so be it, but I can’t honestly say that I’m *aiming* for that goal. As long as we can work for social justice, then I honestly don’t care what religion I’m working with.

    It doesn’t mean I’m gonna shake a Christian’s hand and say, “Nice to meet you, you ignorant moron.” I’m more interested in seeing where we can work together. But, again, I do think religious belief is irrational.

    I agree with this…it’s my belief that seeing where we can work together should always outweigh emphasizing the irrationality of religion. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be pointed out (because it should), just that the former should take *priority* over the latter.

  • Pseudonym

    I understand the objections to the term “interfaith”, but it’s only called that because atheists didn’t get on board early. If you don’t like it, feel free to come up with another word.

    But the bottom line is this: If your problem is that theists don’t understand atheists, then dialogue, whatever term you use to describe it, is the way to fix that problem.

  • muggle

    First to answer the question, no! A resounding no. Interfaith alliances invariably reflect the god as you see him as long as you see god in some form kind of bigotry which may be more benign that the crusading kind but is still, after all, bigotry. The best we can hope for from such a group is token inclusion to cover their asses from being accused of excluding us. They would invariably, even the ones who were well-intentioned, wind up shutting down our voices — and using that very tokenism to do so — by drowning them out.

    Secondly, right on, Tim. Hemant, you are growing less and less friendly and it’s not pretty. You’ve a long way to go before I can really think of you as anti-theist, which is tantamont to anti-Semetic in my book frankly. But, no, I don’t seek to destroy faith. I will fight against it when it attacks, I will speak truthfully when religion is brought up in conversation but I will not attack someone for merely believing.

    I’m more of Thomas Jefferson’s mindset when he said “it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” Unless someone is picking my pocket or breaking my leg for their imaginary friend(s), I’m going to live and let live and I don’t much like all this gnu talk of we must rid the world of religion. It smacks too much of witchhunting frankly and it behaves exactly as those who do it are accusing believers of behaving.

    Unlike Tim, even though I concur with liking that you research and take the trouble to e-mail and get the views of the participants if possible and that’s valuable, eh, if the blog devolves into utter anti-theism, I will leave it. As I’ve said before there’s a reason, I read you and not PZ.

    I’m biding for now. I’ve been reading you long enough to have the perception that you’re pretty good at heart and that you seem to be going through something right now and are struggling with how much you want to take on religion head to head. As I said, you’re still a long way off from the hard-core anti-theist movement who would never quote Christians or get their side of things let alone put up their cartoons etc. But your tone has been growing a bit less well tolerant of benign believers lately. And I too have to be honest. I don’t like that. People are people and if they aren’t coming after me, I see no reason to go after them or defend myself from them.

    Plus it’s just plain stupid to want to forcibly repress religion. If religious freedom ends, we, in the minority, are in deep doo doo. So far, you haven’t crossed that line. You’re more hostile than you were but you are still talking deconversion by persuasion not force and don’t quite seem to have gotten to where you hate people just for mistakenly believing in some deity or deities. That changes, that is where you will lose me. Probably won’t if you don’t because I think you’re intelligent and I like your tone and the tone of your blog that attracts (mostly) interesting informed commenters that I learn a lot from.

  • Hemant,

    I have to respectfully disagree with your (or Clint’s) position. If atheists just duck out of interfaith groups, then it will only strengthen the theists’ stronghold in the group and cement their (irrational?) beliefs.

    If atheists want to participate in interfaith groups, I think it should be highly encouraged. There needs to be some muddying of the waters, so to speak, for people to become accustomed to atheism and recognize it as a valid ‘religion’. The more of a presence atheists have, the more accepted it will be and, hopefully, the more people will consider it.

    There probably isn’t a single atheist in existence out there that hasn’t really grappled with the idea of whether or not there is a god and spent time logically weighing the alternatives in their mind. There ARE many RELIGIOUS people out there that refuse to consider atheism, keeping themselves in their tight cocoon of theism. A little dose of diversity in their religious groups might be just what they need…

  • Sean

    Plus it’s just plain stupid to want to forcibly repress religion.

    I don’t think even firebrands like PZ advocate this. I find your objections confusing; so far as I know, there’s no major group of atheists anywhere that is proposing to enforce deconversion via the force of law (or any other type of force). The occasional internet nut or wacky frivolous lawsuit excepted.

    If the gnus can be criticized for anything, it’s merely for harsh words; I’ve never heard one advocate violence (although Hitchens and Harris have occasionally ventured a bit far into anti-Islam territory for my liking).

  • I vote to participate. It will be through engagement that the negative steryotype of atheists will get erased.

  • @Tim D

    I have to completely agree with you when you said the following:

    “Not everyone can be as strong as you.”

    I’ve come to the belief that some people genuinely need that crutch. I want to be there to help them realize that they don’t need it, but I don’t want to take it away from them.”

    I wrote a blog a few months ago equating my pro-atheism articles to feeling like I was ‘ripping the wings off of butterflies.’ I’m firmly atheist, but there are people that I respect that are believers in god and some of them need religion, particularly those who lost a loved one. Atheism can be pretty lonely, sometimes. If believing in a god consoles some people, let them have it. The problem comes in when people are force-fed religion and brainwashed into doing destructive, harmful things. Or even just denied the chance to even acknowledge that there is the possibility of atheism. Now that’s tragic.

    Like you, I take a somewhat hands-off approach to theism vs. atheism. If someone confronts me with the topic, I will tell them my thoughts. Otherwise, I let things be. Unfortunately, theists tend to be more vocal and have the majority, so atheists shouting out ‘hey, listen up’ is like trying to hear a whisper when a train is rumbling past you.

    The great thing about atheism, though, is that we have science on our side. With continuous research, I feel we’ll slowly draw people in to reason and reality.

    I have relatives that still believe in creation, but they never went to college…

    Atheism will have a stronger base in the upcoming centuries and people will have to find other forms of security and peace in their lives than belief in a god.

    Although I am a firm atheist, I’m almost scared to think of what our world would be like if everyone were atheist…

  • Deepak Shetty

    Danny Wuvs Kittens

    I resent agnostics(depending on the reason they choose that title over atheist)

    So do you resent atheists who choose atheism for the *wrong* reasons?

  • Danny Wuvs Kittens

    I still stand by my Neo-Nazi/Southern Baptist comparison.

    Homophobia, radical corporal punishment of children, anti-divorce, anti-abortion, they believe(and teach) that a wife should submit to her husband, they teach young children that they will be eternally burned if they do/fail to do X and Y;traumatizing them, by their teachings, they are morally obligated to spread their faith, and thus they will often be socially outcast depending on what social circles they are a part of. Their charitable donations go to spreading their beliefs, rather than helping people.

    Their quality of life is heavily damaged by their faith, and, because they spread they try to spread their faith so fervently onto others, including their children, their sickness is spread.

    Self-censorship is common of the southern baptist(and Christians like them). Their selection of media is very limited; everything has to line up with their beliefs, or it is forbidden. Friends are carefully chosen. Advice is ignored from non-Christians.

    Atheists are excluded from the life of the southern baptist whenever possible. This is unfortunate for co-workers and employees, potential mates who otherwise are compatible, social groups, etc.

    It is late where I am, and so I will leave it there. Fill in the blanks yourself; no one here hasn’t felt the negative effects of religion. I stand by my statement 100%; I spent a long time thinking about the damage religion causes, and I didn’t just carelessly throw that sentence out at the end, it’s strongly what I believe.

  • Danny Wuvs Kittens

    “So do you resent atheists who choose atheism for the *wrong* reasons?”

    No, I’m not picky on one’s motivation for being an atheist, I just resent most agnostics, with the exception being the ones who are GENUINELY on the fence. Of course, I think they should get off their asses, access the mass wealth of information there is regarding agnosticism vs atheism and the likelihood of their being a god(s).

    Still, I don’t resent people for ignorance.

    No, I resent the agnostics that are only so for the reasons I said, to give a hat-tip of respect to religion, or to feel superior to atheists(the “they’re just as bad as fundamentalists!” bullshit), or for something along those lines.

    I don’t resent people who genuinely don’t feel like they can take a position either way, but everybody else needs to put down the bottle and move on to big boy and girl cups.

  • Deepak Shetty

    DuckonCoffee

    I’m firmly atheist, but there are people that I respect that are believers in god and some of them need religion, particularly those who lost a loved one.

    No offense meant but this attitude is condescending and it doesn’t sound like you really respect these people. People deal with loss and there are very very very few who are comforted with oh you’ll see them in heaven sometime. Sure people may say it , but the pain and loss is still present and they deal with it .

  • Sean

    Self-censorship is common of the southern baptist(and Christians like them). Their selection of media is very limited; everything has to line up with their beliefs, or it is forbidden. Friends are carefully chosen. Advice is ignored from non-Christians.

    As someone who has Southern Baptist family and was raised in a Baptist church, I can tell you that not everyone is like that. There are churches and individuals like that, but honestly, you’re taking the most sensationalist actions and acting like everyone acts that way all the time. The truth is that the Southern Baptists aren’t quite organized well enough for such a homogeneous culture.

    Also, they generally believe in fewer conspiracy theories and racist bullshit than Neo-Nazis (though I have to admit I’ve had to deal with gay agenda crap from my family).

    If the Southern Baptists have more of a bad effect than the Neo-Nazis, it’s only because there are so many fewer Neo-Nazis that in most of the US they can’t really do much at all.

  • cat

    @Danny, all of these things you cite as flaws of the bapists are something they have in common with neo-nazis. Right wing religious radicals can’t really be worse than neo-nazis, because neo-nazis are, virutally without exception, right wing religious radicals. Neo-nazis and the Klan are groups of right wing religious radicals whose violence is particularly direct and intense. “Homophobia, radical corporal punishment of children, anti-divorce, anti-abortion, they believe(and teach) that a wife should submit to her husband, they teach young children that they will be eternally burned if they do/fail to do X and Y;traumatizing them, by their teachings, they are morally obligated to spread their faith, and thus they will often be socially outcast depending on what social circles they are a part of.” What world do you live in where neo-nazis don’t do all of these things as well, but with an extra helping of brutal violence in the enforcement?

    I am one of those anti-theists who actively opposes religion, but I am a queer person who was raised as a girl in Klan country, and watching people minimize the violence and harm done by the Klan and the neo nazis pisses me off.

  • @ the long-winded Tim D. 🙂
    I believe you misunderstand what Hitchens means by “enemy”. He means it in the broader sense, even if he applies it to individuals. People are dupes, messengers, apologists and soldiers for their religious beliefs to one degree or another and to deny that is to deny reality. Note my use of the qualifier “to one degree or another”, please.
    Granted, it (enemy)is an extreme word to use, but given the overall circumstances, quite appropriate. There are some of us who feel as if we are operating behind enemy lines 24/7.
    To those atheists who do not, I would congratulate them on having the good fortune of being surrounded by like-minded people or admonish them for being silly, naive and ignorant.

  • Deepak Shetty

    Danny Wuvs Kittens

    No, I’m not picky on one’s motivation for being an atheist,

    Wheres the consistency?

    or to feel superior to atheists

    But your entire post is made up of remarks where you feel superior to these agnostics e.g. big boys and girls.

  • AxeGrrl

    Tim D., I just want to say……

    great (and articulate) contribution to this thread 🙂

  • Noel Ang

    What cooperation in essence means is being party to the perpetuation of metaphysical slavery just so mysticists might think better of me.

    It’s an absurd idea. It’s an immoral idea.

    I respect people’s right to choose. By that principle, I tolerate their existence and extend to them courtesy, tolerance, and respect — as one individual to another — as long as they do not impinge on my right to do the same.

    I don’t need an interfaith agency or program to conduct this practice; this happens every day, and is independent of the fact of their mysticism or lack thereof. Engaging in such a ‘community’ adds only this: everyone’s metaphysical stance is declared; my heretofore established, closed, coherent and consistent rational philosophy is made to appear as a slave to pragmatic convenience after all; and consequently the ‘virtue’ of interfaith religionists’ equivocating, egalitarian, collectivist largesse is emphasized, having apparently won said compromise from me.

    The philosophical divide between atheism and theism is not a grayscale continuum. It’s a discrete, instantaneous transition from true to false.

  • Danny Wuvs Kittens

    I don’t feel superior to agnostics; my condescending remarks were retaliatory to what I consider to be agnostic elitism. Its not a feeling of superiority, its a feeling of anger. If you can’t decide, fine, but don’t act like your smarter or more open-minded because you’re on the fence.

    If I say “Hey Jack, I think I’ll be at your house in less than 30 minutes, but I’m not sure because I don’t know this road very well and I might get lost” then that’s a totally reasonable statement.

    If I say “Hey Jack, I think I’ll be at your house in less than 30 minutes, but I’m not sure because I might die in a horrific accident” that’s not a reasonable statement, and it certainly doesn’t make you smarter or more open-minded to say it. Moreover, you validate the people who have a genuine fear that they might die in a horrific accident on the way to Jack’s house, thus extending their fear and suffering.

    Also, just for clarification, “you” in the above paragraph refers to no specific person.

  • @ Deepak

    No offense meant but this attitude is condescending and it doesn’t sound like you really respect these people.

    Actually, I do. One of those people is my mom. I love her more than anyone else in the world and have a lot of respect for her. She believes in God and she believes that every time a bird flutters past her window, it is her daughter sending a sign from Heaven. I don’t. Yet I respect her need of religion and don’t argue faith with her.

    Respect is not synonymous with agreement.

  • Claudia

    @Danny, your reasoning of how Southern Baptists are like Nazis is lacking, to put it very gently. It’s very much like the reasoning I’ve seen from theists claiming that atheism was central to the atrocities of communism.

    The Nazis perpetrated the persecution, torture and murder of millions of people based on their ideology. Racism was absolutely central to their philosophy. Jew was defined as a racial characteristic, not a religious choice.

    Is homophobia and religious intolerance rampant amongst fundamentalist Christians? Yes. Can you declare on this basis that they would be happy to brutalize and perpetrate a genocide of historic proportions, given half a chance? Absolutely not. This is akin to saying that the Democratic Party, since it opposed the Republican party, would intern and murder every Republican, if they thought they could get away with it. This is Glenn Beck territory.

    Nazi comparisons are rarely done with the objective of merely pointing out commonalities. Nazi comparisons are done to try to take some of the deeply-held cultural revulsion that springs up whenever you hear the word “Nazi” or see a swastika, and rub it off on the thing you’re calling “like the Nazis”. That revulsion comes from the atrocities committed by the Nazis, and hence should only fairly be applied to people or groups of demonstrated equal evil intent. This is neccesarily going to be a very limited group. For all others, the Nazi comparison is invalid.

  • Danny Wuvs Kittens

    Neo-Nazis, Claudia. Not Nazis.

  • stogoe

    I’m more of Thomas Jefferson’s mindset when he said “it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

    But it does pick your pocket when your neighbors fund their house of worship out of your taxes. And it does break your leg when your god-soaked neigbors outlaw dancing or prenatal care or birth control.

    For the record, I read both Hemant and PZ. They’re both engaging and thought-provoking reads.

  • stogoe

    Duck,
    I feel that a comforting lie is more cruel than an uncomforatable truth. The vast majority of crutch-wielders aren’t leaning on it for support, they’re using it as a weapon to beat others into submission.

  • Claudia

    Neo-Nazis, Claudia. Not Nazis.

    My mistake, I apologize. I still think the comparison is over the top, but considerably less so than had it been actual Nazis.

  • muggle

    I find your objections confusing; so far as I know, there’s no major group of atheists anywhere that is proposing to enforce deconversion via the force of law (or any other type of force). The occasional internet nut or wacky frivolous lawsuit excepted.

    So far, they haven’t crossed that line except, as you say, the occassional internet nut but I do see them hovering pretty damned close.

    Richard Dawkins wanting to forbid parents to raise their child in their faith, for instance. (Cue the viterol for criticizing the pope of Atheism in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…) I don’t know if he’s advocating for this in law or just socially at this point. I say just apply standard child abuse standards. Yes, hell fire and brimstone is damned scary. So are some of the fiction stories we tell kids. Should telling a kid ghost stories around the campfire or on Halloween also be considered child abuse? Yes, it’s fiction but young children don’t necessarily get the difference even when you tell them.

    My grandson’s seven and he’s on a big kick since the difference between fiction and nonfiction were taught in school last year. He’s always asking is such and such true? We always just answer him honestly but you wouldn’t believe the things he asks are true that we would have assumed a pretty smart boy like him would have known wasn’t. It’s a fine line for kids.

    One reason I speak out so ardently against anti-theism is because I do not want to see it cross that line into violence or hatred. You’ll note that I also mentioned that part of it. The stereotyping of Christians as stupid, etc. That the gnu atheists are definitely guilty of. The Brights kind of implies everyone else is dim. Calling them delusional is derogatory. There’s a difference between delusional and mistaken. Once everyone thought the world was flat. Were they delusional or mistaken? Since god-belief is widely taught as a truth, it’s easy to see how anyone who doesn’t think about it — especially if they were raised in it — would be mistaken. It’s rather bigoted to call them delusional.

    All of the gnu atheists tend to look down their noses at believers. I frankly don’t think belief or disbelief (and I have had believers and non-beleivers both nod their heads in agreement with me over this) is a choice. While it’s not like something you’re born with like skin color or sexual preference, at any point in time either a thing sounds credible to you or it doesn’t or you’re not sure if that makes any sense or not. There are some pretty damned intelligent people who do, like me, think too much who still believe and don’t seem to be able not to. However, thinking theists seem happy to live and let live. They don’t tend to be threatened by my disbelief and, if they think about it, that makes sense. If there were a gawd, how could a mortal’s disbelief threaten his existence?

    Better? 🙂

    The great thing about atheism, though, is that we have science on our side. With continuous research, I feel we’ll slowly draw people in to reason and reality.

    Absolutely what I feel, Duck. I think the more we know about the world, the less religion is going to be able to stand up to it and religion is eventually going to die a natural death. I actually think we’re seeing its death throes now because it doesn’t give up without a fight, without a last desperate gasp of breath. I don’t expect to live to see its demise but I think my grandson (or at least his grandchildren should he have any) stand a chance of doing so.

    No, I resent the agnostics that are only so for the reasons I said, to give a hat-tip of respect to religion, or to feel superior to atheists(the “they’re just as bad as fundamentalists!” bullshit), or for something along those lines.

    Danny, I’ve got to say I concur with that. If you’re genuinely confused is one thing, but that attitude of those who are because they deem it PC really fucking irks me. No, you’re not better than me. Just more cowardly.

    Also, the neo-Nazis are worse because they’re violent and argue for violence. While some Southern Baptists do, not all do and they’re definitely not organized. That’s the main difference. If neo-Nazis had the numbers the Southern Baptists do, the country would be in big trouble. I think I understand your point, however, because the Southern Baptists are having a big impact politically and are therefore literally endangering our freedoms where as the neo-Nazis don’t have that kind of political power.

  • muggle

    stogoe, and I fight those things. Often along side theists who agree that it’s wrong.

    The vast majority of crutch-wielders aren’t leaning on it for support, they’re using it as a weapon

    So you’d beat the minority of crutch users who aren’t using them as weapons into submission just because you’re afraid of those who are? How is that not oppressive?

  • Jason C. Romero here, author of the pro-interfaith essay.

    Just wanted to point out that I had two arguments in the essay — one for anti-religious atheists and one for those atheists who aren’t, where I note that “it is more difficult to convince those who are anti-religious of the importance [of interfaith involvement].” It was clearer in the original version, which states, “That said, I will try to present reasons for all secular students, anti-religious and otherwise, to get involved with interfaith groups, though the way in which I try to craft a compelling argument necessarily differs for each of these groups.” However, it looks like their editing, which I generally appreciated, muddied this distinction.

    The excerpt that Hemant pulled out is from the section where I address “those secular students who are not anti-religious,” so I’m not surprised he — or many of you — found it disagreeable. Maybe you take issue with my choice of terms, but I was trying to capture someone whose “goal [is] to weaken everybody’s faith” when I said “anti-religious.” I’m open to using a different term, but hope this secondary issue doesn’t deter from my overall argument.

    The relevant excerpt would be this one: “Anti-religious secular students should join interfaith groups to a great extent to help divest themselves of any stereotypes they might have of religious folks, such as that they are not normal, creative or rational, just as we ask religious folks to divest themselves of stereotypes they might have about some secular individuals. At a minimum, anti-religious secular students owe it to themselves to look into this issue in the spirit of experimentation, in order to test their hypotheses against empirical data. What they find may surprise them.”

    Some of the comments I’ve read here reinforce my urging of this experimentation. Certainly, some interfaith groups will be bad news for atheists, but if you have any interest at all you should check them out first hand if you haven’t already. Who knows, maybe they will change after encountering your presence and you will have made a tangible difference for the rest of time to come. Can we really expect them to change their attitudes towards atheists any other way?

  • Claudia

    @Jason, I think that in atheism, just as in religion, there are degrees. Very roughly (and drawing from Dawkins atheism scale) I would divide them into:

    1. Believer in belief: Atheist who thinks belief is good for “other people” or even wishes they were capable of belief themselves.
    2. Believerphile: No personal interest in religion but warm fuzzy feeling about religious communities.
    3. Meh: Not a believer. Could care less about religion or not religion.
    4. “Weak” anti-theist: Believes religion is a net negative but thinks engaging with liberal theists is worth it for selected causes.
    5. “Strong” anti-theist: Doesn’t like religion. Doesn’t want anything to do with religious groups, religious activities, religious anything. Top priority is opposing religion and hence collaboration with the religious is never worth it.

    I would define myself as a 4 on that scale. I’m anti-theist insofar as I think religion in general is negative, but that doesn’t prevent me from being willing to collaborate with religious people of good faith (ejem) for given causes. I have no interest in the “all religions are valuable yay!” crowing common to these groups, but I do like the “let’s pool our resources to bring shoes to improverished African children” aspect of it.

  • Danny Wuvs Kittens

    “Also, the neo-Nazis are worse because they’re violent and argue for violence. While some Southern Baptists do, not all do and they’re definitely not organized. That’s the main difference. If neo-Nazis had the numbers the Southern Baptists do, the country would be in big trouble. I think I understand your point, however, because the Southern Baptists are having a big impact politically and are therefore literally endangering our freedoms where as the neo-Nazis don’t have that kind of political power.”

    Ehh, this reminds me of online spanking debates I used to participate in as a Christian. For one person, spanking constitutes a slap on the bottom in response to repeated disobedience. For others, its being held down and getting repeatedly beaten with an implement for around 15 minutes. With definitions varying this much, its easy to consider the other person outrageous.

    Most of my experience with Neo-Nazis has been online. They’re usually privileged, so their beliefs don’t usually extend much further than anonymous racist remarks, indoctrination of children, and discrimination. The law is much fairer than it was decades ago, so violence isn’t that common anymore. If a rich white man assaults, injures or kills a poor black man, he’ll have to answer for it.

    When I think Neo-Nazi, I think white-supremacist. Perhaps that would have been better wording. Really, it would have been, as I don’t know that much about Neo-Nazis other than their white-supremacist beliefs.

    Also, Claudia, you’re scale is excellent, I also consider myself a four; beliefs can and sometimes must be put aside to achieve a common goal. Theists can help just as well as atheists, provided they aren’t proselytizing.

  • Sean

    @muggle

    Better?

    Much. I just have one quibble. There are some people who self-identify as anti-theist (being opposed to religion) but don’t actually mean “against theists” (the actual people). I know that it would make sense for bigotry against believers to fall under the “anti-theist” label, but anti-theism has a pre-existing definition that’s much broader than that (in fact, I’m certain that Hemant would qualify already, although I don’t think he would generally use that word to describe himself). I think Dan Dennett is another good example; he’s an “anti-theist” who’s avoided the things you mentioned (well, he did endorse the “brights” label for a while, but he actually was trying to fix the exact problem that you mentioned, so that’s perhaps the exception that proves the rule).

    My personal role model in this particular matter (not that I’m endorsing everything he’s said; he has been unwise) would be Matt Dillahunty. He is sort of on the stridently-confrontational side, but he’s sometimes slapped down other atheists for making too-broad generalizations. To paraphrase: “I don’t think you’re evil, or bad, or stupid. I was a believer myself until recently. But I do think you’re wrong.”

  • @ stogoe

    Duck,
    I feel that a comforting lie is more cruel than an uncomforatable truth. The vast majority of crutch-wielders aren’t leaning on it for support, they’re using it as a weapon to beat others into submission.

    I take it on a case-by-case basis. My mother doesn’t beat anyone into submission with religion. In fact, she’s not even that religious. When I was just a kid, she encouraged me to explore other religions and doesn’t try to change my atheism in the least.

    I don’t think there’s anything cruel about allowing her to believe there’s some sort of larger power out there, nor is she hurting anyone believing it. She understands my reasons for atheism but chooses her own path. It isn’t my job to force everyone out there into atheism, and I certainly won’t crush people’s spirits when there is no need to. In my opinion, that’s far more cruel.

  • ACN

    @muggle,

    I think Sean is right about the anti-theist label. Hitch, who if not the coiner, is certainly the the first person I ever heard use the word, uses anti-theist to mean “someone who not only lacks a belief in a god or gods, but moreover, believes that it would be truly awful if a god or gods (in any of the usual senses) existed”.

  • Deepak Shetty

    DuckonCoffee

    Respect is not synonymous with agreement.

    Never said or implied it was.
    However your earlier statement implies that if religion was somehow taken away from your mom then she wouldn’t be able to console herself or some such thing i.e. you don’t believe she can brave loss(or not as well) without the crutch of religion – That isn’t respect that’s pity and most likely untrue as well.
    Again this isn’t to say you should convince your mom or anything and Im sure you have your reasons for believing as you do.

  • Deepak Shetty

    muggle

    Richard Dawkins wanting to forbid parents to raise their child in their faith, for instance.

    I used to believe as you do but I’ve since changed my views. turning points were
    a. I had a 4 year old muslim girl in my building. Come Ramzan , the mullah advised that everyone in the family must fast. Including the 4 year old , the parents agreed. She was made to wear a full burkha at 8 (And this is in semi liberal Bombay).

    b. Fundamentalist church of latter day saints. Where Mothers insist on the right to spiritually marry their 18 year old daughters as the 8 or 10th wife of a 55 year old.
    And I can go on where unless we take an active interest in what is taught to children we condemn them to the lives above. You might not be able to forbid parents to raise children in their faith but you have to make the children aware that there are alternatives and short of legislating this what other alternative is there?

  • Deepak Shetty

    Claudia

    4. “Weak” anti-theist: Believes religion is a net negative but thinks engaging with liberal theists is worth it for selected causes.
    5. “Strong” anti-theist: Doesn’t like religion. …Top priority is opposing religion and hence collaboration with the religious is never worth it.

    4.5 – Doesn’t mind engaging with religious people for a good cause but minds joining/interacting/helping a religious group.

  • I don’t know a lot about interfaith groups and what they do, but I tend to think it should depend on the individual organization. If it’s a secular charity which includes both religious and nonreligious people, with the goal of working together to help people, promote equal rights, etc. then I think it’s a good idea to join/support. (Americans United comes to mind.)

    However, if one of the main goals of the organization is to promote faith or religion in general, then I might not feel right joining/supporting it. I think different organizations can be good for different things, and it seems that such an organization would be good at getting people of different religions to get along but not at addressing the actual problems being caused by religion.

    @Parse: I’ve also noticed that there are some religious groups which work together for the purpose of promoting discrimination against another group (e.g. women, LGBT people, atheists, etc.)

    @muggle: (I love the name, by the way.) I also think the word “Brights” was a rather annoying choice. He must have know how it would be taken, even if not intended as an insult. I’m a fan of the so-called “New Atheist” authors, but that doesn’t mean I always agree with them.

    As far as I know, Dawkins has said that he’s definitely not trying to forcibly stop people from raising their children religious. He’s referred to it as “consciousness raising” so that when people call their kid a “Christian/Muslim/Hindu etc. child” other people’s response will be to point out that the kid is too young to know enough about the religion to be a follower of it.

    I love stories, and I think even fictional stories can teach us lessons. I think the main difference is that if a kid asks their religious parents if the holy book is true, the parents will probably say “Yes” or at least “Some parts are true and others are a story” but if the kids asks if, say, Harry Potter is true, the parents will say “No, it’s a story with some good lessons”. So, I think a kid would be afraid of Voldemort as a fictional character, but would not actually think he’s real or can cause harm in the real world, while they may actually become convinced that hell is real (depending on the version of the religion their parents taught them) and that they might go there if they do certain things.

  • However your earlier statement implies that if religion was somehow taken away from your mom then she wouldn’t be able to console herself or some such thing i.e. you don’t believe she can brave loss(or not as well) without the crutch of religion – That isn’t respect that’s pity and most likely untrue as well.
    Again this isn’t to say you should convince your mom or anything and Im sure you have your reasons for believing as you do.

    I don’t necessarily see that as “pity.” People develop emotionally at different rates and in different ways. Some people have been raised their entire lives around religion, and as such they are simply not conditioned or trained to respond to certain situations without deferring to god or belief. That’s not condescension, that’s simple fact. It’s not to say that they can’t handle it on their own, but that they haven’t had the time to grow or develop emotionally outside of their religious convictions. It’s like a person who has been injured and needs a crutch to walk — it’s not condescending for me to acknowledge that they can’t walk on their own right now, and it’s certainly not condescending to refuse to stand around them all day trying to talk them into walking without their crutch when they’re simply not ready to. To extend the metaphor slightly, I’d much prefer to help them get better little by little, offering them assistance here and there until they can stand on their own, and letting them make the decision to forego their crutches.

    It’s easy for, say, you and me to console ourselves over time when something tragic happens, because we’re used to the idea of there being no god, we’ve come to terms with it, and it doesn’t bother us. But it really does bother some people. I think we should give them time and space to work that out on their own; we can’t force them to come to terms with it emotionally in a shorter time than is necessary.

  • Aj

    Sharmin,

    As far as I know, Dawkins has said that he’s definitely not trying to forcibly stop people from raising their children religious.

    The commenters on this site have been told this, they’ve been shown the quotes of Dawkins denying this, but that doesn’t stop them spreading this lie. The only acknowledgement from these people doing this is that while Dawkins does deny this, he can’t be trusted in what he says, he must be lying. You can’t reason someone out of something they didn’t reason themselves into, and quite clearly they’re not interested in the truth, they just want another stick to beat with whether it’s true or not.

    It’s immensely annoying when these fucktards start referring to correcting their bullshit and lies as somehow deifying Dawkins, or that this shows that you can’t criticize him. You can criticize him, for one, it a stupid act by Dawkins that started this falsehood in the first place. However, it’s not right continuing to spread lies when you’ve been shown that it’s not true. They’ve let their irrational hatred of Dawkins because of other disagreements compromise their honesty.

    Claudia,

    I don’t think 4 and 5 are mutually exclusive on your scale. I’m opposed to is the conflation of charity with religion. Religions use charity work as a form of advertisement and an opportunity to proselytise. That seems like sacrificing long term goals for short term gains, so that opposing religion is my top priority is accurate. It’s not that I won’t work with religious people for secular ends, it’s that religious people don’t seem too interested in secular ends.

  • muggle

    I have linked one of his own articles before but seem to have trouble finding it now. He’s done an update and that’s all I can find on richarddawkins.net where I found the orginal and since I don’t care to spend the next six hours searching it out, I’ll just say this: He still admits to wanting to label it child abuse. That, by implication, would tend to say it should be illegal, unless one thinks child abuse should merely be socially unacceptable but not prosecuted legally. Let’s just do away with CPS and whatever England’s version thereof is, eh?

    I run hot and cold with Dawkins. He’s very smart and says some right on things way better than I can put them and I read and enjoyed “The God Delusion” but, man, he is also too damned extreme and yes snobby and bigoted. It’s no surprise that he’d come up with the Brights as a term and has no clue as to why no, it doesn’t correlate with gay (his example for justifying his term, not mine). Gay was used to signify we’re happy as we are, not that everyone else isn’t. Brights is condescending and implies that if you’re not a nonbeliever, you’re not bright.

    You know, it’s okay to criticize Dawkins. Really it is. He’s no final authority on disbelief or anything. Psst: there is no final authority on disbelief. We’re not a formal anything.

    As for those who are saying religion should be interfered with because of extreme forms of it like Jesus Camp and denying medical care or spare the rod spoil the child mentalities or the pedophile preists, etc., please go back and read and take note that I also said: apply standard child abuse standards. What I mean by this, if they’re abusing a child, they should be treated as anyone else who is abusing a child would be and claiming religious freedom to do so shouldn’t let them off the hook. We wouldn’t excuse human sacrifice by claiming religious freedom so why do we excuse neglecting one’s child to death by refusing to take them to a doctor when they’re so freaking ill a normal person would be dialing 9-1-1 already and getting them to an emergency room as fast as possible or let the Catholic Church get away with covering up pedophile preists?

    However, mildly threatening children is not considered abuse and if it were none of us could ever discipline our children or even threaten to. If you don’t knock it off, you’ll have to do a time out. I’ll send you to bed early. Wait until your father gets home (I personally don’t approve of this one; it’s sexist and the woman using it is weak but I’d never advocate for making it illegal or imply that it is child abuse). No, maybe those don’t compare to hellfire threats but how about things like if you don’t eat your vegetables, you won’t grow up strong and healthy; you might as well throw your future away if you take that course of foolish action… It’d be such a fine line to draw, it’d get ridiculous. And, yes, the hellfire one’s not true — to us. To the believer, it’s as true as not being healthy if your child doesn’t eat anything but junk.

    Claudia, love your rankings but I’ll also fine tune. Call me a 3.5. I don’t care about religion, until it gets less than benign and wants to impose itself on me then I’ll fight it head on.

    From what some of you said, anti-theist was a badly chosen word. Okay, that point’s well taken but perhaps we should come up with a new term. Of course, I think religion is ridiculous but I respect the right to believe in the absurd because to do otherwise would threaten my religious freedom and hardly be open-minded and accepting of many people who have not even wished me any harm let alone actively trying to cause me any.

  • Claudia

    Color me totally unsurprised that the instant reaction to posting a ranking system would be people pointing out nuances and applying partial points. It’s one of the things I love most about this community.

    @Muggle, I wholeheartedly agree that “anti-theist” is a very unfortunate term, because it requires instant clarification. People will quite naturally conflate “anti-theist” with “anti-Jewish” or “anti-Muslim” and assume that an anti-theist dislikes theist people, not merely theism as a concept. I much prefer secularist, because it conveys the same message (the promotion of secular society) while not carrying an implication of dislike of the individual.

  • @Aj: I’ve also found it annoying when people equate liking the books of various atheist authors with “worship” or falsely accuse atheists of acting towards Dawkins, Hitchens, etc. the way that religious people act towards religious leaders. It’s as ridiculous as accusing Christians of worshiping C. S. Lewis. I think it’s important to be accurate in criticism; even if I disagree with a person on one topic doesn’t mean that every accusation ever made against that person is true.

    @muggle: I think comparing teaching kids about hell with threatening them with time out etc. is an unfair comparison. It’s more like threatening physical violence repeatedly. In addition to the violent nature of it, there’s an underlying message that it’s okay for God to abuse people, to treat them however he wants, and that’s a terrible message. Again, that doesn’t mean it should be outlawed, but I do think that people who do it are doing something morally wrong.

    Also, I know we’re not a formal group. (In fact, I like that fact.) I just don’t like it when people are accused of saying/doing things they did not say or do, whether atheists or religious people.

    @Claudia: I love the nuance, too.

  • Deepak Shetty

    Claudia
    You don’t see the distinction between cooperating with religious people and cooperating with religious groups? That’s more than just a nuance or a corner case.

  • ACN

    Hear, hear. We are free to agree, to disagree, to do either in whole or in part, and to be as noisy as we’d like about it! That’s the wonderful thing about not believing in a supernatural sky fairy.

    You know, it’s okay to criticize Dawkins. Really it is. He’s no final authority on disbelief or anything. Psst: there is no final authority on disbelief. We’re not a formal anything.

  • Deepak Shetty

    muggle

    You know, it’s okay to criticize Dawkins. Really it is. He’s no final authority on disbelief or anything.

    Uhh yes. And its ok to criticize you for some unjustified (in our opinion of course) criticism of Dawkins , no?
    if I remember correctly he said labelling children was a *form* of child abuse – interpret that as you wish.

  • Oklahoma Atheists have teamed up with the Interfaith Alliance here in OKC on occasion to put on an Interfaith Day of Prayer and Reflection at the State Capitol, the point of which was to show the breadth of citizens who were being shut out of the National Day of Prayer by those running the show. This was, I maintain, a laudable goal, and more than a few people of faith at the event spoke out in favor of pluralism, tolerance, and the absolute separation of church and state. None of the atheists who showed up seemed upset by the fact that people were wearing their faith on their sleeves, or more commonly on their heads. (Side note: Why are so many faiths so easily identifiable by their headgear?)
    Last year, the interfaith event fell apart and the AOK went back to protesting an exclusively evangelical prayer rally. Personally, I preferred the interfaith events, because they emphasized the idea that a broad coalition of people can celebrate their differences while protesting ongoing attempts at integration of church and state. Other atheists among us took the view that we should not work with people of faith, not even when we agree on the major policy points at issue, because it somehow implies acceptance of faith-based thinking.
    I must point out that we unbelievers cannot maintain the wall of separation nor ensure the progress of civil rights and equality by ourselves. We have to team up with everyone who cares to work for these goals, even if they do not share our metaphysics.