Do I Sit Between Them…? November 7, 2010

Do I Sit Between Them…?

***Update***: There’s a Facebook page for the event!

This Thursday, I’ll be at Pomona College in Claremont, California as part of a panel discussion on atheism:

Now What?: Atheism Beyond the Question of God

Thursday, November 11th, 2010
Edmunds Ballroom, 7 pm

Although the number of American non-believers has doubled in the last twenty years, and the number of young atheists has quadrupled, atheists remain politically and publically underrepresented… The atheist movement is coming together, but despite significant developments it remains fractured.

Some atheists seek allies with other minority groups and even liberal religious believers. Other more militant or “evangelical” atheists reject any such alliance and seek the destruction of religion itself.

Today’s atheists have moved beyond the question of whether God exists. However, a number of questions are still left unanswered: what is atheist morality? Is atheism political? Should atheists ally with other minority groups, or even religious people? Should atheists organize as a group at all? Is atheism a social movement? How should atheists move forward?

The other panelists?

Dave Silverman (president of American Atheists and no stranger to the label of “militant atheist”) and Chris Mooney (bestselling author and accommodationist).

Clearly, my job is to start shit between the two of them by saying things like, “I wonder whether Christianity and evolution are compatible…,” moving my chair back, and watching the fireworks. Should be fun!

Ok, I might chime in every now and then, too.

As far as I know, the event is free and open to the public. If you’re in the Claremont area, come check it out!

And then please tell me what I can do during downtime in Claremont…

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  • I never found anything in the book of Genesis having to do with slow biological change over time.

    I also never heard anything in the theory of evolution that implied that it includes an answer to the question of how all of the matter in the big bang came to exist, before the big bang started.

    This is probably why so many devout Christians can embrace evolution.

  • Matt

    I walked that path for many years. God is used to explain that which is not understood.

    On a day to day basis evolution does not seem relevant. The earth is flat the center of the universe. God said and it is trumps physics.

  • I can see your point Joe but I in a way you have to ask yourself “Why do one needs a God-like entity to explain the genesis of things?”.
    Why does it have to be so uncomfortable to accepting our short understanding of our own existence and the universe itself? It doesn’t even have to be scary, just something to drive our need to keep searching for an answer.

    God is the easy way out.

    anthropogenesis @ Blogger

  • Danny Wuvs Kittens

    “Some atheists seek allies with other minority groups and even liberal religious believers. Other more militant or “evangelical” atheists reject any such alliance and seek the destruction of religion itself.”

    Bad, biased wording.

    Some atheists seek allies with other minority groups and liberal Christians, as well as gays(but the first thing that comes to mind @ minority is blacks).

    Militant atheists reject alliances with liberal Christians, gays and/or blacks. Wut?

    Also, “evangelical atheist” and “destruction of religion”. Not neutral terms.

    Evangelical atheist sounds like something from the ancient “atheism is a religion” bullshit and “destruction” implies violence or heavy aggression.

  • muggle

    Yep, that’d be you somewhere in the middle of two extremes. However, I’d have to agree with Danny that they’re using loaded terms anyway. What else is new?

    As for evolution, I really don’t see how one can reconcile it with religion or Christianity and Judaism anyway. (I don’t know other creation myths.) Genesis plainly lays out the time span of creation and it doesn’t exactly allow for the slowness of evolution. The lame excuse I’ve often heard was a day to gawd is a thousand years to us. Yeah, right. Never mind that Genesis also says the evening and morning were the first day, etc.

  • Alex

    Christopher diCarlo has interesting discussion in the recent edition of Secular World about how atheists and “anti-naturalists” answer the following 5 quesitons.

    1. What Can I Know?
    2. What am I?
    3. Why am I here?
    4. How Should I Behave?
    5. What is to Come of Me?

    These questions might help in distilling our differences and what we might still have in common.

  • Other more militant or “evangelical” atheists reject any such alliance and seek the destruction of religion itself.

    /shudders with glee/

    sentences like that one are why i am so addicted to this place. yes, being honest: that is exactly what some of us seek. being able to read someone else writing that sentence, and not worrying about getting jailed, shot, or lynched for sharing that idea? wonderful, better than chocolate.

  • Speak your mind, Hemant! Don’t be intimidated by their titles. (Not that I think you would be, just reassuring you, though)

    Debate is healthy, so light as many bottle rockets off as you possibly can in the time allowed.

    I think we need more of these discussions across the country, btw.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Visit the Alf Museum!
    The only paleontology museum located on a high school campus in the nation.

    Because even math geeks like fossils.

  • Evangelical atheist sounds like something from the ancient “atheism is a religion” bullshit and “destruction” implies violence or heavy aggression.

    your analysis is utterly correct and i don’t disagree. however, i think it’s important for those of us who are truly “militant” to come out as so. if i may be ironic: if i were suddenly in possession of the powers of a “god?” the very first thing i’d do would be to make all organized religions go away. people can keep “spirituality” as that’s a flexible term that can mean a lot of things, but yes. i am At War with organized religions and i am not ashamed to say so.

  • I really like the description for this event. Sounds awesome and I hope it goes well!

  • Evelyn

    I am intrigued with the responses.

    I liked this article, I unlike so many other comments here, like the wording of such like.

    “Some atheists seek allies with other minority groups and even liberal religious believers. Other more militant or “evangelical” atheists reject any such alliance and seek the destruction of religion itself. ”

    Atheism has become as organized or at least is trying to become as organized as religion, there is a huge movement into the same sort of indoctrination of the religious as the evangelical christians have successfully tried and done over the years.

    It has become a political battle.

    I wish we could seriously live in peace, where the religious can believe and the non can too.

    A true liberal would allow for all thoughts and practices to combine in one society. To celebrate each own rituals and cultural response to life.

    I will admit that I do get blocked from that feeling, and belief when progress of science is stopped because of religion interference in our society. But that then leads me back to the idea that our constitution here is suppose to back no law to be made in reflection of any religion. If we can actually push that, we can have both.

    I freely say that I do not believe in any being of god, but I do not attack and say I have no beliefs when countered by an organized religion. I simply say, my beliefs in creation and life is based on science and that is my path. I don’t assume that anyone will think the same as me and I will not make anyone try and think the same as me

  • Darryl

    So, honest question, what do those of you who embrace the phrase “destruction of religion” really mean by it? (It’s an aggressive but vague phrase.) Would you support legislation that outlaws it? (I would hope not – as there goes the first amendment) Do you advocate its suppression by force? (I truly doubt anyone wants this.) Is it hoping to end religion by loudly trumpeting its flaws in the public square? (This I totally embrace myself, but would never expect it to end religion – unless maybe by attrition over a very long time.) Or is it just the emotional wish-state of wanting it to go away because you hate it so much? (I can easily understand that, even if my own emotions aren’t as drastic.) I mostly ask because when the topic is “how do we move forward?”, then taking the position of “destruction of religion” implies you have a plan of action, but I haven’t seen anyone really spell out what that would be. Not spelling it out in practical terms makes it very easy for others to assume that “militant” atheists want to violate human rights in pursuit of a religion-free society. Hope I don’t sound like a damp-clothed hand-wringer by saying so. I’m not. But I would like to know what the most aggressive among us are thinking.

  • Evelyn


    I would also like to know, but also the why.

    Is it the oppression of the religious on your life? I get that, I get the feeling of dispair when yet another kid takes their life because they were bullied, I get the feeling of pure anger when someone wont let someone get the right medical treatment, or stops someone from a biological choice of action that will not effect anyone else but themselves.

    I get the responses to the idea that religion in our country can be indoctrinating and that it has a political bias, and has historical fact that it has been used to hurt, kill, start wars, or abuse masses of people.

    so yes, I get the anger. The want to organize and stop.

    But is it the religion that you need to stop? The millions of people that need the rituals, the culture, the faith to explain things they can not? to have a thought pattern into effect to give moral structure to their lives?

    I think its the power, the abuse, and keeping it out of our laws that we need to stop.

    For if you do that, if you keep the political out of the religion if that is what you fight, then realistically even the religions themselves will die off. Or perhaps they wont. Which ever, the indoctrinations will. Including the ones of making people believe in no god.

  • Razzle

    what is atheist morality? Is atheism political? Should atheists ally with other minority groups, or even religious people? Should atheists organize as a group at all? Is atheism a social movement?

    Atheism is the lack of belief in a god(s). That’s it. You could be anything politically from there.

    I don’t even know what you mean – should atheists ally with minority groups for what? What atheists and what minority groups? It’s nonsensical. Atheism can’t and never will move beyond lack of belief in god(s), unless we change the definition. Silliness.

  • benjdm

    Militant atheists on Veteran’s Day? [grin]

  • Darryl

    Here in the USA, I think the church/state separation battle ought clearly to be the key focus. We’re already a secular nation, not that you’d know that listening to so many of our “leaders.” But, yes, I think if the line of demarcation became widely enforced, understood and respected, then religion would lose much of its social and cultural power. (Secularism needs to lead by succeeding, by achieving better goals in education, infrastructure, health care, technology, and so on.) Personal religion is never going away. You might as well try to pass a law that outlaws falling in love or enjoying ice cream. And as long as individuals find their own irrational beliefs groovy and fulfilling, they will seek to group with the like-minded, and this always has to be permissible. So, it seems like government neutrality towards this is appropriate, and hey, lucky us, that is in fact how we are constituted, again, not that you’d know that listening to many of our current “leaders.”

  • Hitch

    Make sure that everybody leaves the event understanding that atheists eat babies, preferably with some sort of flavorful sauce. And that eating babies is incompatible with vegetarianism.

    Oh and the lack proof that you haven’t eaten a baby doesn’t mean that you haven’t! So anybody who claims otherwise is holding an epistemically questionable position! 😉

    Surely one of the panelists will come out and claim the rights of believers to claim that atheists eat babies on that ground! And allowing that is good for science, because it makes believers happy to claim atheists eat babies and we don’t want them unhappy about science. 😉

    *and yes sarcasm/humor warning if it wasn’t blatantly obvious*

  • Darryl

    While I’m thinking of it, neutrality is not enough when dealing with the clear abuses of power and influence that many churches wield. So, count me in with the immoderate when it comes to that. (Where are the repercussions for the atrocities in the Catholic Church, for instance?)

  • Salo

    I graduated from Pomona College a few years back. (Wish I could see you but I’m in the Bay Area now.) Unfortunately, Claremont is incredibly boring for a college town, so good luck finding anything to do in your downtime.

  • I think there is a middle ground you can take as an advocate for atheism “evangelism” while not pushing for the “destruction of all religion”. You can be an advocate for making atheism mainstream while recognizing that realistically, it will probably remain a minority viewpoint for quite some time.

  • Duo

    I’m really looking forward to this event. It’s great that you’ll be in Claremont this time! (and my car won’t break down this time because I can see the colleges from my apartment! :D) There are some fun hangout locations in Claremont, like the Back Abbey, and some great restaurants, and even a pretty awesome dueling piano bar.

  • Alex

    I’d recommend the Press on Thursday as they have happy hour until close. I’ve been a long time reader and I’d love to get a drink after if you’d be interested.

  • KH

    In Claremont visit the Folk Music Center and Museum , founded by musician Ben Harper’s grandparents 50 years ago and now owned by Ben.

  • S-Y

    “A Christian has to be Adolf Hitler to be called militant. All an atheist has to do is write a book.”
    – Tommy Holland

  • Sounds like the most scathingly brilliant idea.

    As to what to do during downtime in Claremont…my wife suggests you grab a rental car or cab and go to West L.A. From what she says Claremont isn’t a very happening place.

    Of course if you really want to stir up shit, in your downtime you could hang on the streets of Claremont and tell passersby, “Those gays really got a raw deal with Prop 8, eh?”. You’ll get those fireworks. If you’re going to do that, however, you should have most excellent health insurance.

  • Luna

    Yeah, Claremont isn’t that exciting. There’s the village, but everything closes wicked early here. Most of the grad students I know drink at the press, in the village. If you want to hang with religion grad students, I think some of us will be there that night.

  • Luna

    I would like to clarify–when I say “religion grad students”–we’re mostly non-religious academics.

  • Heidi

    I would also like to know, but also the why.

    Why would I want to see the end of religion? Because it’s not true. Isn’t that a good enough reason?

  • Lisa

    Plenty to do in Claremont, but things do close early and it is low key, so I second the comment regarding West Hollywood. I’m pretty close to Claremont. I’ll probably go to this.

  • Darryl, loved your questions. When I hear the term destruction of religion, I wonder the same damned thing and also wonder how so-called realists can be so unrealistic?

    Putting aside how morally wrong it would be, we can’t do away with religion legally because the second we do away with religious freedom, we’ve shot ourselves in the foot given how much in the minority we are. We are fucking screwed. Even more so than currently with the Religious Reich’s political strength.

    Yeah, sure, I know. Countries with a state church are far less religious. But how long did this take? How far back in their histories do you have to go before the irreligious outnumbered the religious? I’m seriously asking. Given that 200-hundred some odd years ago, my country was formed in rebellion against one of the most famously irreligious ones, I’m doubting it’s all that many generations ago.

    And, btw, they’re still being forced to support a state church they believe in. I would utterly hate that even more than I hate having to tolerate the religious blowhards in my society now. And it seems their laws are still influenced by the state religion so what have they gained other than not being exposed to the obnoxious assholes that are so common in the US?

    Meh, you just can’t legislate away religion. It ain’t going to work. And you can talk yourself blue in the face trying to deconvert people and be as big an obnoxious asshole as the ones you complain about but that ain’t going to do diddly shit to people who ain’t open to it and aren’t, on some level, already questioning. Besides, wtf do I care if someone believes in some nonsense as long as they don’t use it to judge me or try to force their silly mysticism on me?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m outspoken. I support church-state separation and educating about Atheism to dispell the stereotypes but the last thing in hell I have any interest in being is an evangelical Atheist and when Atheism gets named a religion, I become a Nontheist.

    I’ve got to say I too resent all the Atheists must be this and Atheists must be that that come not from assholes who stereotype us but from other Atheists. I don’t must be nothing. God fucking damn it.

    I do, however, think religion is doomed. It’s doomed simply because we learn ever more about the world every day. Religion was the superstitious go to when mankind couldn’t understand the world and was mystified by it. Now mystery after mystery is cleared up and more are every day. We no longer need Thor because we know what causes thunder and lightning. Other silly religious superstitions will one by one bite the dust as we learn more and more about our world and indeed beyond it, into space. Evolution pretty much does debunk the creation myth despite futile protests to the contrary.

    Religion is doomed simply because it can’t stand up to the light of knowledge. Frankly, I think this is why Atheism’s numbers have been increasing rapidly lately. Not the new Atheists and all the books and openness. The openness is giving some the courage to be counted in it but, as is often pointed out on this blog, we’ve really got a lot of people who still identify as religious who are really de facto Atheists. Who speak of parables and analogies and symbolism and spirituality but don’t really follow the religion they claim to believe in.

    Fortunately. I’m not going to force them to admit they don’t believe. Simply because there’s got to be some psychological reason they’re clinging to it and they will have to give up the Linus blanket on their own for it to not do harm to their psyche. In fact, the dangerous ones are reacting to having it yanked away. They’re no more religious than I am but they are screaming and kicking for their security blanket back and it forces them to be extreme and hurtful. Them I stand up to because they are a danger to me and are hurting people now.

    I’m content with the others that haven’t relinguished the blanket that they don’t literally follow the buybull or whatever holy book of their choice even when they sit in those pews or kneel to pray (citing the benefit of prayer as meditation) and choose to disregard the hateful, mean parts of the nonsense. They’ve thrown out the bathwater already. The baby will come when they discover it’s not a baby but just a doll. An old, worn-out, broken down doll in rags.

    I think true believers are extremely rare these days. Extremely. I think many who think they believe just believe what they need/want to for whatever pshycological reason. LOL, though. They’d probably say the same about me. In fact, while I say many don’t really believe, many of them have told me I don’t really disbelieve. They’ll concede it’s because I don’t act as they think nonbelievers would but they probably still think it.

  • @ Muggle,

    I totally agree. Long term I think the Abrahamaic traditions are finished. They simply do not offer compelling answers anymore to any of the important questions. And I think the ‘Faithful’ know it.

    Which really begs the question – Do Religionists actually believe what is written in their sacred texts? Do they even know what is written in their sacred texts? That Pew poll shows a shocking lack of understanding of basic religious tenets and doctrine by Religionists – which strongly implies that they do not really know what is written in their sacred texts, and more importantly, that they do not care. When selling their religion to the uninitiated, they preach about the loving, caring, forgiving God. They severely downplay or outright ignore the angry, wrathful, vindictive, petty, vain, jealous murdering God. When they want to preach about hating those whom they find distasteful, gays, Muslims, atheists, they focus exclusively on the angry, wrathful, vindictive God and completely ignore the supposedly loving, forgiving God.

    When pressed on the actual words in these books that are supposedly literally true, they accuse us of twisting the meaning, of taking everything out of context. Either that or they argue that the world back then was very different and that we have no right to judge – a better statement of moral relativism cannot be made. The reality is that most Religious people either do not know or do not believe in the words in their sacred texts. They believe in a highly personalized understanding and heavily reinterpreted version of the parts of the sacred text that they like and comport with their preexisting feelings and freely discard the rest. Which would be fine EXCEPT that they claim to have exclusive access to Truth by virtue of supposed revelation set down in a literally true book written by the Creator of the Great All.

    And that is what is killing them. Either that book is literally true from cover to cover or it isn’t. If Religionists disclaim its inherent literal truth then Religionsists have no greater claim to Truth than anyone else. If they want to claim its inherent literal truth, however, then Religionists MUST provide explanations for the inconsistencies, contradictions and cold brutality of their allegedly unconditionally loving and caring deity.

  • It’s annoying that the idea of atheists organizing or getting political is often viewed as creating an atheist “identity.” That makes no sense. Any other group of people can organize in the name of a common interest, whether it’s promoting reason, fighting incursions of religion into government, or securing a national holiday for knitting enthusiasts. If I lobby for better funding of prostate cancer research, that doesn’t create an “identity” (a “Prostatist?”) for me. It’s just one aspect of my life that I publicly advocate for.

    That, to me, is all the atheist “movement” is — a group of people coalescing to promote shared interests and goals. That they share a single data point (no god belief) doesn’t convert them into kin.

    Of course, saying that doesn’t allow one to declare atheism a “religion” or to demonize atheists as a monolithic, baby-eating, science-worshipping, fornicating block, so there you go.

  • Euan

    Belief or lack of belief in deities is separate and distinct from one’s morality. That really needs to be understood by atheists and theists alike, there is ample evidence of both good and bad theists just as there is ample evidence of good and bad atheists.

  • I’m driving up from San Diego just for this. I’ve been faithfully (pun fully intended …haha) reading your blog for about a year now and can’t wait to see you in action! I’m constantly sharing your posts with like-minded friends and family.

    Looking forward to it!


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