A Prophet is Concerned December 30, 2010

A Prophet is Concerned

Bobby Henderson, the Prophet of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, is concerned about the future of the atheist movement and what he sees as an emerging trend. In a serious piece, he makes his case for us not to be dicks:

What I worry most about, though, are the emails from young people who see in the Church of FSM an opportunity to bash religion in general and more specifically to bash people for being religious. Tolerance is more of a nuanced view and I believe they will come to it eventually if they stick around but it’s really very concerning that so many kids think this way when they first come to a place of free thinking.

I am not a huge fan of organized religion, and it’s impossible to ignore the abuses and corruption that have grown onto so many religions over the years, but at the same time, it’s impossible to deny that so many people get something meaningful out of their beliefs and that they have every right to continue to believe whatever they like *even if it’s irrational*, as long as it does no one else any harm. Just as we have the right to believe in the FSM. Just as nonbelievers have the right to be free from it. And we are all richer and more complete people for interacting with people who challenge and disagree with us.

It seems disingenuous for the creator of a mock religion to be upset when others use the FSM to mock religion. But I do get his point. We just have to be careful that our target is religion/the supernatural and not necessarily the good, decent people who happen to succumb to it.

Yes, some people benefit from their belief in a non-existent god. But many people try to take their belief and turn it into public policy, or use it to justify ridiculous statements and oppressive behaviors, or turn it into an excuse to not take real action on a problem. We can’t stop calling them out on their behavior.

I support civil dialogue with the other side, with the knowledge that we don’t need to hold back our criticism. We’re on the side of reality; they’re not. We (on the whole) support good science and church/state separation and telling the truth. They’re the ones who have to justify belief in what they can’t see or prove, and defend their faith from its crazy and plentiful followers, and reconcile their holy book with a reality that disagrees.

You can do all that without being a jerk about it.

In the meantime, there are areas where the two sides can cooperate. You don’t need religion to be a divisive factor when it comes to helping those less fortunate or raising money for a good cause.

***Update***: Commenter Allecher points out that the first “I’d Really Rather You Didn’t” in the Church of the FSM is:

I’d Really Rather You Didn’t Act Like A Sanctimonious Holier-Than-Thou Ass When Describing My Noodly Goodness. If Some People Don’t Believe In Me, That’s Okay. Really, I’m Not That Vain. Besides, This Isn’t About Them So Don’t Change The Subject.

🙂

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Emmet Cooney

    R’Amen!

  • I think it takes all kinds to get the message across and received.
    Thus, it’s good to be a dick… you can be a nice, tolerant guy, and I’ll be the dick.

    Together we’ll get through to the audience in our own way, and just as effective as the other.

  • microbiologychick

    No one seems to be defining what “dickishness” is. Is PZ a dick? Dawkins?

    I don’t go scream in Christians’ faces on the street, but I will call out their actions and beliefs when necessary.

    To many Christians, the very fact of being an atheist is dickish. To question religion at all seems dickish in our society. I rarely see atheists being jerks at higher rates than other people. Where is all this dickishness?

  • Inferno

    I actually like what David Silverman said about it during that panel with him, you, and Chris Mooney. We should work together with them when it’s for a mutual cause but we should expect and should not tolerate the point at which their watered down version of faith tries to go where it does not belong.

    We don’t need to be *mean* about it but that doesn’t mean that we should let it slide either. And that doesn’t make us mean, it makes us honest.

  • Allecher

    I don’t find it disingenuous at all. In FSM the first commandment “I’d really rather you didn’t” is

    I’d Really Rather You Didn’t Act Like A Sanctimonious Holier-Than-Thou Ass When Describing My Noodly Goodness. If Some People Don’t Believe In Me, That’s Okay. Really, I’m Not That Vain. Besides, This Isn’t About Them So Don’t Change The Subject.

    It is actually totally internally consistent.

  • Danny Wuvs Kittens

    I don’t think religion will die for a very long time, if ever. RELIGIONS will die, and perhaps the traditional idea of a religion will die, but not religion itself. I think some people just need to believe in final justice, or that they’re being protected, or that they’ll always be loved by SOMEONE, or that they have some kind of special power or favor that gives them an advantage over everyone else. I think these beliefs will become less intrusive and less popular with time, but I don’t they they’ll die, even in developed countries, over the next 500 years.

    Naturalism isn’t for everyone.

    I don’t think we should focus too much on trying to get people to stop believing in God. I certainly think we should make resources available, in all forms of media, with books like the “four horsemen” have done, and on the internet. I think we’re good on this front. I think, if someone really, truly wants to answer if there’s a God or not, the resources are very much available too them.

    With activism, I think we need to focus on picking our battles. Instead of debating the existence of God, debate why an all loving, all powerful God would send people to burn forever when he hasn’t provided much(any, but much is nicer) evidence for his existence, particularly when some people doubt more than others(like Thomas in the bible) and require more proof. There’s also billions of people who haven even HEARD of Jesus. Yeah, the bible say’s they’ll be judged based on their actions, but that means they’re going to hell when, by God’s standard, being angry with someone is the equivalent to killing them(sermon on the mount).

    I think we should point out other interpretations for genesis that don’t involve instant creation. I’ve heard one where God waited until humans became smart enough to have a soul, then gave them one.

    I think we should ask why would God have a problem with gays and lesbians and pre-marital sex in our modern age. We don’t have arranged marriages anymore, and stds are easily preventable. If an act lets two or more people grow closer together, why would God have a problem with it? Especially when the majority of gays and lesbians say they can’t help being gay, and there is some evidence that suggests genetic and/or early childhood factors into it. I’ve heard an argument for celibacy, saying they just have to avoid their sinful urges, but why would God want someone to go through life without a spouse, when that’s what they wanted more than anything? Personally, I’m not really that unhappy being single. If I find a woman that fits my criteria and we click and our relationship grows from friendship to romantic to marriage, great, but if not, that’s fine too.

    Some people though, they want love more than anything. I don’t think a loving God could ask certain people to be celibate.

    Look, I can’t believe I’m saying this. Maybe its just because I live around a lot of Christians and I can either co-exist or be an unemployed hermit who will die alone and poor in every way.

    Online, I’m usually a scathing anti-theist, but we have to pick our battles. I would love if everyone was a naturalist, but I don’t think I’m likely at all to see that in my lifetime. I don’t think my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandchildren, assuming they’ll exist, will see that in their lifetimes.

    In my lifetime, I DO think I’ll see not a world, but at least an America where homophobia will be treated like racism. Where gossiping or prejudice against ANY religion, members of it, or people who don’t have a religion, will be met with scorn and exile. I think we’ll see a world where people define their religion, and not the other way around. I think that it already exists in many places. More young people are growing tired of their communities’, families’, and church’s shackles, and are giving less and less of a fuck about their friend’s and pier’s personal life.

  • Alex

    I think debates should be held between opposing religions. Which one would be the biggest dick? I don’t really see that face to face engagement happening unless they are shooting or bombing each other. It would be nice to see a Jewish Rabbi, Catholic Priest, Baptist Minister, Muslim, and a Buddhist or Swami go at it and see which faith is truer.

    Frankly, I think atheists really should not debate the religious. Religions don’t deserve that much creditability. It’s like debates between religion and science which are as ridiculous as debates between astrology and astronomy or creationism and biology.

    However we need to criticize all beliefs that lead to acts of injustice or violence.

  • jose

    I’m seeing more and more people who limit criticism to organized religion who tries to influence politics and have organizational power. They tend to leave “peaceful, loving communities that don’t hurt anyone” alone. Let’s not forget that all it takes for a young kid to die from an easily treatable condition is some really, really religious parents who take the bible seriously about the healing power of faith.

    Faith can be dangerous by itself. There’s no need of organizations, social power or high hierarchies.

  • Kyle Marquis

    At last, someone has taken a firm and principled stance against “bad people.” That’ll really help.

    Rant time.

    I can’t believe how sloppy Henderson’s writing–and by extension, I suspect, think–is. Starting with the now-typical conflation of argument with physical abuse via “bashing”–I wonder if George Lucas “raped” Henderson’s childhood–we get a muddled mess of buzzwords about “tolerance” and “organized religion” (bad, always bad; no matter how religious you are, “I’m not a fan of organized religion”) and “meaning” and, of course, rights.

    What, you mean the religious have a right to believe stuff? We can’t just kill them for praying to Vishnu? Well golllly, let me put my cyanide away.

    Then he goes and screws up that argument by adding the qualifier “as long as it does no one else any harm.” So, is Mr Henderson talking about legal rights here? Civil rights? Moral rights? Who knows! But mean people are bad and we should be tolerant and people have rights to stuff, except when they don’t.

    What a mess.

  • HamsterWheel

    The whole FSM business is starting to get a bit stale and juvenile, I wish atheists would give it a rest already. As far as having dialogue with theists, I used to be more hostile but I’ve realized that it doesn’t yield very good results. As a rule of thumb now I try to imagine my mom participating in the discussion: I keep it polite but rely strongly on reasonable, rational explanations.

  • Apostate Granny

    “Yes, some people benefit from their belief in a non-existent god. But many people try to take their belief and turn it into public policy, or use it to justify ridiculous statements and oppressive behaviors, or turn it into an excuse to not take real action on a problem. We can’t stop calling them out on their behavior.”

    Exactly! And another question is – can all, or even most, religious people not think that their beliefs should become public policy and so forth? Is there a way for most people to do this? It tends to seem that a byproduct of what it takes to have and maintain religious faith is the belief that your religious belief is correct and that everyone else needs to abide by its rules.

    I’m not sure the two things can be separated out for most people. If that’s the case, then I would say that the cons far outweigh any pros and the fight to eradicate religion altogether must continue not just the fight to try to get the religious to be more tolerant.

    Personally, I think both approaches have their merits and uses. It’s easy for some people to ignore the “nice” approach. That old adage “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” is actually true most of the time. I’ve found a lot of times that trying to use the “nice” approach falls flat when you’re dealing with people who are used to hearing “fire and brimstone, pulpit pounding” sermons. These people are conditioned to think that if you’re being nice, calm, etc. that you don’t have much conviction. And of course there are also people who will automatically tune out something they perceive to be a “tirade.”

    Personally, I try to live my life as an example of being “good without god.” I don’t get into someone’s face about their religious beliefs unless they try to get in my face about my non-belief. And then I will match them tone for tone, if I perceive that being calm is going to fall flat. If someone states something that is hypocritical in regards to their supposed religious beliefs, I will first gently point this out to them using their own scriptures. I let them escalate things first, if they get escalated.

  • Michael

    Yes, because the past 2000 years of respect have really had an affect. I believe that contemptable ideas deserve contempt. I’d say this man is just like the scientists enforcing NOMA who are afraid of backlash. This argument sounds terribly familiar. Any time any minority wants to take a step foward, there is always someone around,internal to the minority, to say “Don’t rock the boat!” I suggest these people look into some history.

  • Kenny

    No respect. Ever. Even if I respect the person I will always pour shit on their stupid beliefs if the subject comes up.

    The quickest and easiest way for a more secular less crazy future is to errode the respect for religion in a cut-throat way.

    It’s not like it kills anyone. Offended? Get over it you little baby!

  • sil-chan

    Religion stops getting my contempt when I stop seeing articles about:

    1) …how bad atheists are for putting up billboards and *gasp* letting others know we exist.

    2) …how churches get tax exempt status despite breaking rules such not using tax exempt funds for political campaigns.

    3) …how children die because their parents believe prayer will fix them.

    4) …how religion is not allowed to be debated and anyone who does is obviously being a dick.

    5) …how some piece of vital science is being held back because some people have a problem with it based on an ancient (and poorly written) book.

    Until then, religion can f*ck right off.

    Religion, yes – ALL RELIGION, promotes sloppy thinking instead of penalizing it. It props up a certain set of beliefs that are not consistent with the well-being and continued existence of civilization.

  • Villa

    Calls for ‘tolerance’ always seem like nonsense to me.

    Our movement is perfectly tolerant. There are no calls for banning of Christianity. There are no door-to-door atheists haranguing people for their belief in Jesus. There aren’t atheist evangelists trying to get Christian marriage banned.

    People may disagree with Christianity. They’ll say so with different degrees of fire or patience. And perhaps there is an argument for a softer tone.

    But let’s not confuse impolite language on a blog with intolerance.

  • Helene

    I’ve always felt like there were three kinds of activism: The first is anger: you’re mad and you want to yell and scream and bash your opposition. Perhaps that’s what Bobby is seeing in young people. This stage also involves choosing to personify the opposition’s worst nightmares about your side. Another stage is dialogue, trying to reason with the other side, convinced you can make them see some kind of sense. Then finally there’s quiet expression. Here’s my opinion, I have the right to express it, and I don’t need to get in anyone’s face about it. All three kinds can usually be seen in any movement (certainly in current dialogues about atheism) and all three are valid in their own way. I think most of us have been each of the three at one time or another. I’m GLAD we have the friendlies and the firebrands and everything in between!

  • DA

    I got sick of the FSM meme a while ago, honestly, cos it just seemed like such an intellectually lazy copout. Theist maakes a point (often a silly one, but a point) and then atheist just says “FLYING SPAGHETTI MONSTER LOL”. I’m just as sick of ninjas, zombies, pirates, I can haz, and bacon for similar reasons. Also, people started sort of taking it seriously, kind of like Church of the Subgenius or Church of Satan which started out as joke religions and turned into actual cults.

    “I am not a huge fan of organized religion”

    Hey, speaking of cliches! Everybody claims to dislike organized religion, including the leaders of it. what a totally empty statement.

  • You know what? I really don’t give a flying fuck what he thinks.

    First of all, I’ve got to say it, I was shocked as hell to find out there was an actual church of FSM. Here, I’d gone about using what I thought was just an analogy the same way the invisible pink unicorn was an analogy and saying ramen when I agreed with people. I thought it was all just a big gag on religion, a way to poke fun of it.

    The fact that there’s an actual church of it is, frankly, daunting and puts me off it all together. I guess I’ll have to return to unicorns and Santa.

    Oh, yeah, and just plain mocking and blaspheming all I fucking well want to. If that’s dickish, I don’t care. Not after all the dickish ways I’ve been treated by not conforming to the majority religion in my country.

  • Jeff Ritter

    I agree to a point with Bobby. I have recently accepted the title atheist. And I have found that it is viewed by people, mainly my family, as a “dickish” thing when I post atheistic views on facebook,or make comments toward religion that show no respect to the religion. I’m expected to keep my mouth shut and not say anything opposing the view. Well, I don’t. As you told a Christian woman married to “fundamentalist” atheist recently, there is a difference between respecting a person and respecting the view. I do not respect religion, why would I feign respect of it? If they do not want to talk about religion fine, I have no problems with that and will not make comments. But if a christian is going to proselytize towards me, then I am going to state my own opinions, that I think religion is a crock, a scam, an impedence to a better world. I can do that without directly insulting the person, I had to learn how to but it’s really second nature now. They may still feel offended because they can’t tell the difference and that’s on them. Wearing a FSM T-shirt or atheist slogan t-shirt is no less offensive than a Jesus Saves t-shirt. Granted, there are times that I’ll rant and that could easily be taken as a dick move, but I do that with like minded friends, and not around a believer. A rant is meant to release frustration and is best done away from the source of frustration. You wouldn’t rant about something your wife did in front of her if you truly cared, no you’d do that at the bar with your buddies while letting off steam and talk to her about it when you’ve cooled off a bit. So, if sharing my minority view makes me a dick then so be it. I think street preaching is a dick move.

  • Jeff Ritter

    After reading the full article by Bobby I have a few more comments. He is dead right on the community aspect of church. My path to atheism and away from the church life I grew up with, which included 8 years at a private school that had a pentecostal, fundamentalist curriculum, was lonely. I dealt with it though mostly because I have gone through other lonely roads in life and have learned how to deal with it. First by knowing I’m not the first. Sooner or later you run across someone that has been on the same road. I also agree that fighting the nativity scene every year is old. Stop trying to remove it, just ensure that a counter display is put up. When they try to stop that display THEN fight. I received A LOT of blatantly religious xmas cards this year, next year I’m going to send some secular cards maybe a few FSM or FFRF.ORG cards out. I don’t try to change a religious persons mind, but I will encourage them to challenge their beliefs and let them know that if they have doubts they are not alone.

  • cortex

    It should be our priority to combat religious practices and beliefs that are causing direct harm, but that doesn’t mean that we should not correct people when they are wrong about something. Is that being a dick? Oh well. If people don’t like when atheists make them feel stupid, they shouldn’t invest themselves so much in stupid beliefs.

  • Robert W.

    Sil-chan,

    3) …how children die because their parents believe prayer will fix them.

    I hear this alot. How often does this happen?

    The fact that it happens once is one too many, but how is that an attack on all religion that has any merit. Particularly when the ones who use this argument in most cases also agree with pro-choice where mothers intentionally kill their unborn children and everyone thinks that is their right to do so.

    As a Christian, i can tell you that it is a very small minority of Christians who adhere to the notion that prayer and prayer alone without medical intervention is the only way to save a dying child. The vast majority of Christians will be praying for their child in a hospital and praying for the success of the care given to them by their doctors.

  • ACN

    Good example, during the effort to stamp out polio local religious leaders told peoplenot to take their children to the doctors because the vaccines would make their children ill. These religious leaders werewilling to sacrifice their children’s well being so that theor authority wouldn’t be undermined.

    We’ve had the abortion discussion before and most the folks here who weighed in don’t think that aborting a fetus is the same as denying medical treatment to children. I understand that you disagree, but several of us have carefully explained our views on this issue and we don’t think that “life begins at conception”is a reasonable position.

  • Sil-chan

    @Robert W.

    1) If you think it is a small minority, look up the christian science “hospitals.”

    2) Sloppy thinking leads to this situation, which religion promotes.

    3) When you count yourself as a Christian, anyone who does something stupid or crazy in the name of your god gets to count you when they number their allies, even if you dsagree with them. You implicitly act as a power base for the crazies.

    4) If you equate lumps of cells with a fully functioning, thinking, and aware child, then I have news for you next time you or someone you love goes in for chemo.

    5) Also, if abortion is frowned upon by your god, why does he repeatdly condone it in the bible? Even disagreeing with that (you can, after all, prove any point of view with that muddled book) your god supposedly created a world where most pregnancies end in miscarriage without so much as the knowledge of the “mother.

    As I said before, religion poisons the well.

  • ACN

    Sil-Chan I think you have have quad posted 🙂

  • ACN

    Sil-Chan I think you may have quad posted 🙂

  • Robert W.

    ACN,

    Good example, during the effort to stamp out polio local religious leaders told peoplenot to take their children to the doctors because the vaccines would make their children ill. These religious leaders werewilling to sacrifice their children’s well being so that theor authority wouldn’t be undermined.

    Please give your support for the statement that this was the motive. I have seen where some in Africa thought the vaccine was contaminated. i have also seen where the WHO is using religious leaders to promote the use of vaccines because of their influence over the people.

    And assuming this has happened, please cite where it was because God told them not to get the vaccine and that prayer was enough. If there are some cases like that they would be far and few between. So again I ask how is this a transgression against all religious faith?

    Sil-Chan,

    1) If you think it is a small minority, look up the christian science “hospitals.”

    Most mainstream Christians would consider the christian science folks to be a cult. Regardless, they are really a small minority and even they allow medicine, granted it is delayed in most cases and sometimes tragically.

    3) When you count yourself as a Christian, anyone who does something stupid or crazy in the name of your god gets to count you when they number their allies, even if you dsagree with them. You implicitly act as a power base for the crazies.

    I will remember that the next time an atheist does something crazy and blame you for it. Show me where mainstream Christian theology calls for the denial of medical treatment for a child and I will look at it.

    4) If you equate lumps of cells with a fully functioning, thinking, and aware child, then I have news for you next time you or someone you love goes in for chemo.

    No I don’t equate all lumps of cells as a separate human being. But I do equate a fertilized egg with the fully developed baby it will grow into.

    And i know ACN and others arguments on this subject. I just find that to be a convenient lie to keep from saying they condone the abortion of unborn children. I want to protect children as much or more then you do, I just believe that starts in the womb. You want to say a lady that makes that choice is within her rights, but a parent practicing his religion can’t if the child could be harmed. I disagree with both the lady’s right to abort and the harm to the child done by a cult. Neither harm to the child is supported by
    my faith.

    5) Also, if abortion is frowned upon by your god, why does he repeatdly condone it in the bible? Even disagreeing with that (you can, after all, prove any point of view with that muddled book) your god supposedly created a world where most pregnancies end in miscarriage without so much as the knowledge of the “mother.

    Cite the verse or verses where this is repeatedly condone by God? So you equate the natural death of a child by miscarriage with the intentional killing of that child? Do you equally equate dying of disease with murder? Or only when you want to justify the abortion of the unborn?

  • Sean

    Hey Robert, when is the last time you have attended a funeral for a miscarried fetus? Not even your silly church recognizes a fetus as a human being, so what are you on about?

  • Marella

    Yes, some people benefit from their belief in a non-existent god.

    I’d like to see some evidence for this before I’m gonna agree to it. It may make them feel better, but so does alcohol or cocaine! To feel happier because you’ve been lied to is no benefit.

  • X

    Wait, seriously? Your FAQ says that a “friendly atheist”:

    Believes everyone should do what makes them happy, provided they are not stopping anyone else from doing the same.

    Does not think someone is inferior for believing in God, but can engage in polite conversation about that decision.

    And then you turn around and say, without qualifying your statements:

    We’re on the side of reality; they’re not. We (on the whole) support good science and church/state separation and telling the truth. They’re the ones who have to justify belief in what they can’t see or prove, and defend their faith from its crazy and plentiful followers, and reconcile their holy book with a reality that disagrees.

    What the hell, man? That’s not exactly “polite conversation” there.

  • RockyTij

    I’ve long thought about this dilemma (be nice/be a dick) in this way…

    We know that what’s believed by faith won’t be argued away by reason. We know that the overwhelming majority of religious individuals with whom we converse won’t be swayed by any arguments we can make–whether they be nice or dickish.

    But there are always lurkers. Lurkers whose faith might be wavering. Lurkers who might be having doubts.

    If my attitude toward and treatment of the religious individual with whom I’m arguing is heavy-handed, mean-spirited, mocking, or even just disrespectful, those doubting lurkers might be lost. And it’s those lurkers that can be convinced by reason.

  • Why can’t we all get along

    Ok. I realize that there haven’t been posts here in awhile but I am going to post this anyway.

    I love the idea of the “Friendly Atheist”. My question is, where are they? The only Atheist encounters I have had or that seem to be posting online are the people talking down to everyone. Admittedly there are several religious folks out there that do the same, and trust me, I am not saying that my faith makes me better then anyone(Atheist or otherwise). What I am saying is simply this. Voice your opinions if you must, but do so in a manner that does not belittle anyone. Remember you are human just as I am. My faith does not make me better then you and your lack of faith does not make you better then me. So many people on this site are saying how people with faith are irrational, stupid, and basically closed minded. Statements like that seem to me to be a double edge sword. A rational intelligent human does not have to resort to name calling or even one sided judgments. Maybe Atheist are right and there is no God, but maybe I am right and there is. I don’t follow the bible word for word, I am not an idiot. A long time ago I realized the book had to many contradictions and there were too many parts that make no sense. That doesn’t mean I stopped believing, I simply chose not to put too much faith in a book that was written and rewritten via word of mouth generations old.

    I am not here to try to convert anyone, just point out that talking down to people because you don’t believe what they do does not make you special or right. It just makes you appear mean, hurt and childish. Show me some of that rational thinking and stop acting like children. Jesus (real or fictional) teaches us not to judge, but to forgive and to love each other. Jesus may not have been perfect, but there were some good lessons to be learned from his life, be it real or fairy tale.