Dispatches from the Creation Wars

The Blasphemy Challenge

I’ve been asked by a couple people what I think of the Blasphemy Challenge. Here’s the answer: I think it’s pointless, juvenile and stupid. I also think it’s a cheap way to promote a badly made documentary, a free copy of which is sent to those who respond to it. At least they get their money’s worth.

Comments

  1. #1 Don
    February 7, 2007

    Stupdid and juvenile, yes somewhat, but I don’t think it’s completely pointless. It has caused some discussion on the web, though I will grant you that much of that discussion isn’t the type to get us anywhere. If nothing else it has provoked some funny responses from hardcore religious whackos that are good for a laugh.

  2. #2 Will E.
    February 7, 2007

    I kind of have to agree. As an atheist I would rather promote the positive aspect of living without god(s), superstition, pseudoscience, etc. rather than aggressively shouting at believers. They should make short positive declarations about atheism without commenting on religion at all, thereby showing religion is, simply, unnecessary to understanding humanity, the world, and the universe. I also wanted to like The God Who Wasn’t There more than I did too. It’s stuff like that makes me wish Carl Sagan was still around.

  3. #3 Matt
    February 7, 2007

    I feel pretty much the same way. I rather enjoyed The God Delusion but was dismayed when I went to Dawkins’ website and found this campaign prominently featured. It feels too much about the “I can poke holes in your theory, therefore mine is correct.” position of ID.

    I believe that atheism should be promoted on its own merits and comparisons to religion should be explicit so that the parity or superiority of atheism can be demonstrated unambiguously in the realms where religion claims monopoly.

  4. #4 doctorgoo
    February 7, 2007

    I thought it was funny how it was treated by MSM. They’d interview Christians about what they thought of it, and the most common response was that the blasphemers were reading that part of the scripture too literally, so therefore, they didn’t necessarily lose their souls forever.

    It just goes to show how people can interpret the Bible in any way they want to.

  5. #5 Gretchen
    February 7, 2007

    I have to agree– it just feels like so much nose-thumbing.

  6. #6 David Durant
    February 7, 2007

    > rather than aggressively shouting at believers.

    *Applause*

    As an atheist I would love to join an organization committed to calm and patient explanation of the “rationalist” (for want of a better word) point of view. I’m getting sick of the loud proletyzing coming from “my side” claiming all religious people are ignorant or duplicitous.

  7. #7 Matthew
    February 7, 2007

    Agree, I don’t like that people might think that because I’m an atheist I’m in any way associated with this b.s., because I frankly couldn’t possibly care less about other people’s religious beliefs, nor do I have any desire to change them, nor do I even think about my own religious beliefs very often. I think I might just have to start calling myself areligious, instead.

  8. #8 Ed Brayton
    February 7, 2007

    To me, it’s the equivalent of those trolls who go into Christian chatrooms and say, “I fucked Jesus in the ass ha ha ha” and get kicked out. Congratulations, you really struck a blow for rationality. Now go away.

  9. #9 daenku32
    February 7, 2007

    There are a lot of things that are pointless, juvenile and stupid. These things usually are harmful, like most Friday night activities where cheap beer and “Hey watch this!” is involved, which is shortly followed by a trip to the emergency room.

    What I like the most about the challenge is that it gives voice and public recognition to so many young people. Most religion is peddled by parental and church indoctrination and childish protests are ignored. The challenge brings Pascal’s wager to the table, and those who insist on the fear need to state their own case, or look like chicken littles. Especially if they are going to continue peddling their fear.

    I think the way the challenge pissed off the Fox News commentator, I’d say it is worth everything simply for its entertainment factor. Religious people’s children, friends and even loved ones will go to hell based on their beliefs, and the believer can either learn to accept this or change their own ways. Not try to change others.

  10. #10 DuWayne
    February 7, 2007

    It pisses me off to no end when Christians engage in this kind of smug, condescending crap. It is less attractive to me, when it comes from people who have no religious belief.

    I don’t object to anyone trying to encourage other’s toward their viewpoint. I just object to people being pompous, loudmouthed asshats – regardless of their religion or lack thereof.

  11. #11 Will E.
    February 7, 2007

    –As an atheist I would love to join an organization committed to calm and patient explanation of the “rationalist”–

    That does sound good. However, the problem I see, and is behind a lot of the “new atheism” (I do hate that term) is that while we’re being “calm and patient” the crazies are actively weakening science education (witness what’s going on in Kenya right now), encouraging bigotry and hatred for atheists (the whole CNN debacle), rewriting history (David Barton) and promotoing theocracy (Chuck Norris!?!). It’s a tricky situation, because I don’t think religious people should be talked down to, but what do you do when they say, repeatedly, atheists can’t have morals, can’t have good marriages, are responsible for the Holocaust and the gulag–? Needless to say, I’m of two minds on this issue, which gets me precisely nowhere.

  12. #12 Don
    February 7, 2007

    To me, it’s the equivalent of those trolls who go into Christian chatrooms and say…

    I don’t see the equivalence there. When you go into a chat room that has a stated philosophy you should be polite, even if you are there to disagree. The Blasphemy Challenge is just out on you-tube, it’s not in a chat room. I wholly agree there are better ways for atheists to make the public aware of themselves. On the other hand a bit of in-your-face has been known to work also. I mean it is not really all that shocking (or shouldn’t be) to Christians to hear that atheists don’t believe in the divinity of Christ. That’s kind of what it means to be an atheist.

  13. #13 Raging Bee
    February 7, 2007

    Why? Because, according to Mark 3:29 in the Holy Bible, “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.” Jesus will forgive you for just about anything, but he won’t forgive you for denying the existence of the Holy Spirit. Ever. This is a one-way road you’re taking here.

    What a complete load of horseshit. First, if you say something and don’t mean it, then it doesn’t mean anything — at most, it’s an act of false witness, or perhaps making a graven image of yourself. And second, as any Christian convert can tell you, Jesus will forgive any sin of which you sincerely and knowingly repent to him. This includes atheism and any other belief that denies the existence of a Holy Spirit.

    So these are the Christians Who Say “I Double Dog Dare You!”? The Knights Who Say “Ni!” made more sense.

  14. #14 Gretchen
    February 7, 2007

    Raging Bee– So are you saying that Mark 3:29 is false then? Because that is, indeed, what it says.

  15. #15 Raging Bee
    February 7, 2007

    However, the problem I see, and is behind a lot of the “new atheism” (I do hate that term) is that while we’re being “calm and patient” the crazies are actively weakening science education…

    And while you’re being un-calm and un-patient, the crazies are pointing to you and saying “See how silly these atheists are? This proves we were right about them all along! They have nothing meaningful to say.”

    This “Blasphemy Challenge” crap was of no use in the Dover trial, nor in last year’s elections.

  16. #16 Raging Bee
    February 7, 2007

    No, Gretchen, I’m saying you’re misinterpreting Mark, and I say that based on what other Christians have said to me over a period of a few decades.

  17. #17 GH
    February 7, 2007

    It pisses me off to no end when Christians engage in this kind of smug, condescending crap. It is less attractive to me, when it comes from people who have no religious belief.

    I don’t see why having no religious belief makes it less attractive than those that do.

    Look the challenge is silly. But it’s not pointless. It allows a people of like mind to if nothing see they are not alone. Far from it. This is positive.

    I just can’t seem to get why preachers can preach, have hell houses, deny evolution, trumpet trash like ID and it’s bedfellow cosmological ID, tell folks they are going to a horrible place unless you agree with them, and on and on but if a single atheist says ‘hey your full of crap, prove your case’ and they are told they are acting in poor taste.

    Makes one wonder about the veracity and strength of any religious cause.

  18. #18 GH
    February 7, 2007

    the crazies are pointing to you and saying “See how silly these atheists are? This proves we were right about them all along! They have nothing meaningful to say.”

    Or the atheists are pointing and saying ‘See how silly these theists are? This Hell house/praying to virgins/seeing mary in candles/on and on proves we were right about them all along! They have nothing meaningful to say.”

  19. #19 Will E.
    February 7, 2007

    Point taken, definitely. But as even much noted in this blog, the anti-evolution folks aren’t giving up. Certainly “un-calm and un-patient” doesn’t have to be adolescent, mocking and derisive either. Hopefully we can make our points otherwise.

  20. #20 Will E.
    February 7, 2007

    but if a single atheist says ‘hey your full of crap, prove your case’ and they are told they are acting in poor taste.

    Precisely. Good point.

  21. #21 Colugo
    February 7, 2007

    From my perspective, the ‘Blasphemy Challenge’ is another manifestation of the ‘New Atheism’: in your face, defining itself against Abrahamic religion in general and Christianity in particular (a distorted self-image for atheism), insisting that rigorous scientists – unless they are grotesquely mentally compartmentalized – cannot believe in God and “get” science at the same time, condemning theistic evolutionists, and employing Romantic rhetoric about a war to the finish between science and religion.

    (As an atheist teen I far outdid most of these blasphemy challenger takers in terms of blasphemy. Then I grew up.)

    The New Atheists have already found themselves in confrontation with fellow agnostics and atheists – for example, Mel Konner at the Beyond Belief conference, or PZ vs. Ed.

    I don’t endorse the New Atheist strategy, but I’m not their enemy. I am a longtime reader of Dawkins and Dennett, who I admire in many ways. I have a lot of respect for Penn Jillette, a blasphemy challenge taker. PZ Myers and Larry Moran have great blogs, and Sam Harris tells progressives uncomfortable truths about the ultra-reactionary ideology of militant Islam (but he overgeneralizes, hurting his case).

    I think the Dover decision gave a shot of testosterone to everyone on our side, which for some just heightened their zeal. But too many forgot that people like Ken Miller (one of those heretical theistic evolutionists) are owed a great deal of gratitude for their role in that case.

  22. #22 Gretchen
    February 7, 2007

    Well, Raging Bee, I am only reading Mark according to what it says. And I’m not sure why the interpretation of “other Christians” should supersede that.

    Personally, I don’t especially care one way or another– it certainly doesn’t affect my willingness or unwillingness to blaspheme. But those are the words of Jesus according to the author of Mark, and they are an accurate translation as far as I recall according to the professor I had in college who taught the book. I simply hope that you and whatever Christians you have been talking to have not decided that this is a “misinterpretation” simply because its implications are difficult to handle.

  23. #23 Ed Brayton
    February 7, 2007

    GH-

    You’re right, those things done by the religious are stupid. Why emulate them, then? Why not point out that they’re stupid without engaging in stupidity ourselves? No one objects to criticizing religion; I do so every single day on this blog. The objection, in this case, is to pointless displays of non-piety. If you want to make an argument against religion, then make an argument. Putting up a video saying “I don’t believe X” – and nothing else – is completely meaningless. That’s why I say it’s equivalent to chatroom trolls, who are doing nothing but posturing for their friends to show how edgy and “brave” they are. They’ve accomplished nothing, nada, zero, zip.

  24. #24 twincats
    February 7, 2007

    I belong to ex-christian.net, which functions as a support group for the de-converted. Both members and non-members are encouraged to tell their de-conversion stories and get support and feedback.

    Some of these people tell tales that express a lot of trauma from and anger toward Christianity. The blasphemy challenge seems to be a cathartic activity for them, so I believe it probably has (at least) some merit.

  25. #25 Ed Brayton
    February 7, 2007

    Colugo wrote:

    I think the Dover decision gave a shot of testosterone to everyone on our side, which for some just heightened their zeal. But too many forgot that people like Ken Miller (one of those heretical theistic evolutionists) are owed a great deal of gratitude for their role in that case.

    Not to mention Rob Pennock, John Haught, Wes Elsberry (who wrote the program that did the word comparisons between the various drafts of Pandas) and 10 of the 11 plaintiffs in the case, all of whom are theists who have done tremendous work in defense of science education.

  26. #26 Badger3k
    February 7, 2007

    “No, Gretchen, I’m saying you’re misinterpreting Mark, and I say that based on what other Christians have said to me over a period of a few decades.”

    Isn’t that part of the point – exposing the hypocrisy of the “it’s God’s Word, just interpreted the way I want it to be” crowd? How can it be a misunderstanding if it is a direct reading? Seems to me the more logical way of looking at it is that those who believe otherwise are just trying to justify their own wishes by reading more into it (or ignoring it completely) because that’s what they want to think. If christians say that this literal reading is incorrect, then they need to explain how the literal reading of “third day he rose again” is correct.

    That said, yeah, the blasphemy challenge is juvenile, but so are the fruitcakes who came up to my car (when I was shopping) to try to tell me about their invisible friend, or the people who are always on tv telling us how we have to live our lives based on their interpretation of what they believe to be are the words of their invisible friend. Next time someone comes on tv talking about “god” – change “god” to, say, “luke skywalker” and see just how juvenile it sounds. And with that, I think it is also a good idea because it gets more people to be open about their lack of belief, to see that, no, they are not alone, and they shouldn’t be afraid to speak out.

  27. #27 Raging Bee
    February 7, 2007

    Gretchen: Jesus explicitly said that whoever sincerely repents of his sins and sincerely asks him for forgiveness will be forgiven. No exception for blasphemy, murder, or anything else. The whole point of forgiveness and salvation, is that all of us have sinned, and we’re all capable of recognizing our errors and changing our minds, which is what Jesus, and his followers, want us to do. A person who denies the Holy Spirit and later thinks “Oh wait, I was wrong” can get to Heaven just like a murderer who later thinks “Oh wait, that was an evil thing I did.”

  28. #28 doctorgoo
    February 7, 2007

    Badger wrote:

    If christians say that this literal reading is incorrect, then they need to explain how the literal reading of “third day he rose again” is correct.

    I’d like to point out that only some would say that this reading is incorrect. But this is no different from any other scripture from the Bible… Virtually every single subject has multiple, and often-times conflicting accounts which open the Bible up to interpretation.

    This explains why not all Christians are YECs, or why there are homosexual Episcopalian bishops, or even why Pentecostal Christians deny the Trinity (in favor of the “Oneness” doctrine).

    In all these cases, different denominations pick and choose which verses they’ll use to defend their preconceived notion of Christianity, and ignore the verses they disagree with.

  29. #29 doctorgoo
    February 7, 2007

    In the particular case of the Blasphemy Challenge, Bee @3:37PM just pointed out the part of the Bible that conflicts the verse from Mark.

  30. #30 GH
    February 7, 2007

    I don’t disagree Ed. I agree it is a pointless endeavor and accoplished nothing but some of the critism of the challenge it seems alot of it is ‘oh my atheists are speaking out’.

    Your very consistent Ed. My comment(s) are not meant to be negative towards your post. It just seems to me that atheists/agnostics/skeptics have a double burden. First they must fight a culture war on many fronts and second when they attempt to speak up they are essentially insulted and told not to do so(not by you so don’t take this as such) by people who don’t even have any semblence of a decent counter argument.

    Atheists do not have churches to go to and this leads to a false feeling of isolation. Events like the above no matter how pointless they seem to you or I may help others who feel differently. I think the simple fact is there are alot of atheists/agnostics/skeptics who are in pews and only seek a community and strength in numbers to be counted. I say this without a value on this either way.

  31. #31 David Heddle
    February 7, 2007

    Mark 3:29 is correct, there is a “blasphemy against the siprit” but what these folks are doing is not it. It is not accomplished by a magic sentence–there are no magic sentences with God, everything is based on the heart.

    In the actual accounts, we see that Jesus is responding to a specific incident. Something the teachers of the law did–not just their unbelief (they may actually have believed, in a certain sense) but a real, concrete act that they committed.

    The sin, at least as committed by the Pharisees, is not “just” to deny a direct revelation of God’s power but to attribute it to the devil. And not out of ignorance, but willfully. The teachers knew (and Jesus reminded them of the logic) that Satan does not cast out demons. They witnessed Jesus casting out demons. They did not deny that Jesus performed a supernatural act, they acknowledged it. Yet, in spite of their training, they attributed this supernatural act of righteousness to Satan.

    In response, Jesus emphasizes the magnitude of their sin. They saw with their own eyes. They knew better. And yet they called good, evil.

    Those making blasphemy videos are missing not one but two of the ingredients needed to commit the unpardonable sin: 1) a direct revelation from God which they attribute to Satan and 2) the knowledge from which they could willfully commit the blasphemy. Instead what they are doing is just garden-variety blasphemy–presumably they have been denying God for years. Putting it on a video doesn’t elevate to the level of unpardonable. What they are doing is what Paul describes, speaking of himself to Timothy:

    though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, (1 Tim 1:13)

    In short, what they are doing is quite forgivable.

    While I doubt anyone alive today even has the opportunity to commit the unpardonable sin, Paul certainly did. Had he attributed his Damascus road experience to Satan, that would, I believe, have been an example.

    The premise of the blasphemy challenge is that, contrary to all of scripture, there is a magic sentence or errant thought that can render one unredeemable. There is no such thing. In Matthew’s account, for example, before Jesus gives the warning of the unpardonable sin, we read this prelude: Knowing their thoughts, he said to them…(Matt. 12:25a) It was their thoughts, their hearts that condemned them, not a magic sentence.

    This should be obvious. When someone comes to Christ they usually say words to the effect. But the words aren’t magic. The words don’t bring salvation. They simply reflect the heart. Here we have the same concept.

  32. #32 Gretchen
    February 7, 2007

    Mark 3:28-29 reads thusly:
    “I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.”

  33. #33 Frank Walton
    February 7, 2007

    Wow, an atheist against the blasphemy challenge! More and more atheists are coming against it.

  34. #34 GH
    February 7, 2007

    David-

    In all honesty in your comments here and elsewhere I see you as a modern version of a Pharisee. You are so concerned with this scripture and that making sure that you are correct when in reality it’s fools gold. Your version is just that, your version. No more correct than another. The only determining factor is reality.

    The people came first with Jesus not laws. Jesus didn’t change OT law, he changed how one should view it. Law should never be placed above a person. Rather than stoning a woman for adultery, you accept her failing as a human and forgive her.

    That the longer we go from the original message religion becomes about rules and punishments speaks to the hollowness of the men who can’t see the bigger picture. The fact that men spend their lives studying what this or that passage means I think is quite the opposite of what Jesus the man would have wanted. It’s about people, their failings and successes, and the love and forgiveness required for everyone.

  35. #35 Kevin
    February 7, 2007

    Pointless, juvenile, stupid. Yup.

    But it is also one other thing: Harmless. And I think that is the key thing with the challenge. Just a way for kids to express a part of what they believe (or don’t believe).

  36. #36 David Heddle
    February 7, 2007

    GH,

    You are so concerned with this scripture and that making sure that you are correct when in reality it’s fools gold. Your version is just that, your version. No more correct than another. The only determining factor is reality.

    This is manifestly wrong. There is only one correct interpretation of scripture, and in any given example I am either right or wrong, but in no sense is my view “equal” to any other. It’s not “whatever works for you.” Given a set of conflicting views either only one is correct, or they are all wrong.

    Rather than stoning a woman for adultery, you accept her failing as a human and forgive her.

    Absolutely–and she is to go and sin no more. And if she demands the right to stay in an adulterous relationship, she is not to be stoned but removed from the church.

    What does this have to do with the blasphemy challenge? Do you have your threads mixed up? The blasphemy challenge is based on a couple verses in scripture, and you critcize me (if I understand correctly) for addressing it via scripture.

    When this was discussed before there was an interesting theme: those who could care less about scripture would argue with full force and exegetical certainty that these (mostly) kids were, in fact, committing this sin–because the truth, that they are not, kind of ruins the fun.

  37. #37 Blake Stacey
    February 7, 2007

    I do most of my Wobosphere surfing during down time at the office. After spending far too much of the day in front of a computer, I usually don’t have inclination to hop online again when I get home. Therefore, I don’t watch too many videos, viral or otherwise. Unless my memory is failing me (which has happened before), the only Blasphemy Challenge video I’ve actually watched is the “Grand Unified Theory” rapper posted to Pharyngula a while ago. I found it entertaining. If I’ve seen any others, they obviously didn’t offend or inspire me enough to lodge in my memory.

    In default of any other information, my “null hypothesis” would be that the Blasphemy Challenge videos would follow the same general distribution as, say, comments on ScienceBlogs discussion threads: some insightful, a few profound, many redundant or inconsequential, and a few offensive. That’s life among the blags for you. Why expect otherwise?

    And hey, if you’re a teenager with an argument to make, if you think all has not yet been said — well, now at least a few people might stumble across your statement.

  38. #38 doctorgoo
    February 7, 2007

    There is only one correct interpretation of scripture, and in any given example I am either right or wrong, but in no sense is my view “equal” to any other.

    There are plenty of Christian scholars who would say that you are completely wrong on this topic, and undoubtedly many others. And they, too, would contend that your view isn’t equal to theirs, since they know the correct interpretation.

    Since the Bible can reasonably be interpretted in conflicting ways on the same topics, these differing views are in fact “equal”, in that people can believe in one or the other and still be called a Christian.

    Or is it your contention that if one doesn’t agree with your particular interpretation of the Bible, then they’re hellbound?

  39. #39 David Heddle
    February 7, 2007

    Doctorgoo,

    (Gosh, do any colleges teach rhetoric anymore?)

    No, it is not my contention that “if one doesn’t agree with [my] particular interpretation of the Bible, then they’re hellbound.”

    The purpose of any of my posts is to give my opinion, one I am prepared to defend, and which I may ultimately be convinced is wrong.

    But not here, it appears, because rather than disputing what I write, all I get are variations of the theme: just because you think you’re right, doesn’t mean you are–lots of other Christians disagree.

    By the way, which of Christian scholars you alluded to would claim that what is being done via the “blasphemy challenge” is, in fact, an example of the unpardonable sin?

  40. #40 Tulle
    February 7, 2007

    There is only one way to interpret the Bible. MY WAY! Anyone who disagrees will go to hell. Only those in my church will get in. How do I know this? God told me so. <— Silly, but that is what I hear most Chistains say, and they all pick which parts of the Bible to follow. Even inside the same sub-version there is a lot of picking and choosing.

    If I may…..The only good thing about Christianity is there is so many versions to choose from. So you can do whatever you want a still go to heaven, you just need to choose which you want to go with, and you will get to your heaven. I would not want to spend eternity with 99.999% of Christians I know, so I have petitioned God to make a seperate heaven for each church.

  41. #41 doctorgoo
    February 7, 2007

    DH, didn’t you follow this story at all when it first broke last month?

    Fox News, CNN and virtually every other cable news network devoted a significant portion of their news cycle to this story. And many of them had debates involving Christian scholars who held all types of opinions on this. Several agreed with you, several didn’t.

  42. #42 GH
    February 7, 2007

    There is only one correct interpretation of scripture, and in any given example I am either right or wrong, but in no sense is my view “equal” to any other. It’s not “whatever works for you.” Given a set of conflicting views either only one is correct, or they are all wrong.

    I’m not so sure I agree with this. Although I see your point it is to some degree ‘equal’ to another simply because it is very possible that a God could speak to each of us in a different way. I think there is plenty of grey here.

    Otherwise what doctorgoo said.

    And if she demands the right to stay in an adulterous relationship, she is not to be stoned but removed from the church.

    He said nothing about removing her from fellowship. You are adding words to his mouth. I don’t think you can remove one from God once he has you.

    What does this have to do with the blasphemy challenge? Do you have your threads mixed up?

    Nothing. It was just a thought after seeing the body of your posts on this blog today.

    By the way, which of Christian scholars you alluded to would claim that what is being done via the “blasphemy challenge” is, in fact, an example of the unpardonable sin?

    Good grief David do you think those of us who come here for entertainment between work items have enough time or desire to find every religious nutter/preacher/theologian that agrees or disagrees with this or that doctrine. IT’S A FREAKING RATHOLE! There has never been any doctrine, even salvation, that theologians can agree upon. Everyone has their version. It really is that simple.

  43. #43 TW
    February 7, 2007

    Disagree with you Ed. I think the blasphemy challenge is a Dawkins ‘consciousness raising’ sort of thing that puts religious belief on the table for criticism. For those of us who are already there it might seem pointless, but there’s a much larger number of people to whom something like this just might give permission to start doubting.

    TW

  44. #44 David Heddle
    February 7, 2007

    Tulle,

    There is only one way to interpret the Bible. MY WAY! Anyone who disagrees will go to hell. Only those in my church will get in. How do I know this? God told me so.

    If you are charging me with such a statement, then you’re an idiot. If you are not, then ignore my comment. I have argued something that I think almost all Christians would agree: that there is universal truth. And then something with which most conservative Christians would agree, since it virtually the definition thereof, that the bible reflects that universal truth. I have not argued anything remotely akin to “salvation by correct interpretation.” And in fact, anyone who knows me knows that I am Calvinist, which amounts to salvation purely by grace, and not by anything you say or do or promise or merit or understand. And so, there is nothing you can ever attribute to me that suggests that my view is that you must agree with me or you go to hell.

    Doctorgoo, I didn’t follow the story on the news, so I would be interested in what scholars believed the participants were committing the unpardonable sin. Not because I don’t believe you, but because I’d like to track down their arguments. So if you can supply me with their names, it would be appreciated.

    GH,

    I did not put words in Doctorgoos mouth. What are you thinking? Did I write “she is not to be stoned but removed from the church” as if I were quoting him? I’ll answer for you: no I did not. Good grief.

    And so you think it is perfectly fine for someone to say that many Christian scholars disagree, but out of bounds for me to request a reference for that claim?

    Geez-Louise.

  45. #45 Jim Lippard
    February 7, 2007

    David Heddle wrote: “The sin, at least as committed by the Pharisees, is not “just” to deny a direct revelation of God’s power but to attribute it to the devil.”

    You mean, like the author of 1 Chronicles did in chapter 21, verse 1: “Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.” (Compare to 2 Samuel 24:1: “Now again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah.’”) Also: Isaiah 45:7, Lamentations 3:38, Amos 3:6…

  46. #46 Tulle
    February 7, 2007

    Mr. Heddle, I charge you with nothing. My problem is in my 49 years here on earth I hove only met one family that I would call Christian. A very wonder loving family that did not judge others and give what little they could to help anyone in need, and never asked those that they helped what their religous beliefs were. All the rest are just people that try to tell others what God thinks and if they do not agree thay are going to hell.

    So we have the same belief, what God tells one must be right. I know what God tells me, do you know what God tells me?

    BTW: I am not a Christian, nor have I ever been Christian, nor will I ever be Christian. Neither of my parents were Christian, at least by the time I was born, becuase they could not stand the hypocrites that ran the churches. They did have me read the Bible when I was in high school so I could see for myself how these so-called Christians totally ignored the teachings of Christ. I love Christ, but I have no respect for any Christian church.

  47. #47 doctorgoo
    February 7, 2007

    I have argued something that I think almost all Christians would agree: that there is universal truth. And then something with which most conservative Christians would agree, since it virtually the definition thereof, that the bible reflects that universal truth.

    First you say that “almost all Christians agree”, and then you describe your definition of “most conservative Christians”. All this means to me is that you’re conceding the point that Christians in general have a large diversity of Bible interpretations.

    You have also said the following two statements in the comments of this post:

    There is only one correct interpretation of scripture

    No, it is not my contention that “if one doesn’t agree with [my] particular interpretation of the Bible, then they’re hellbound.”

    So let’s get this straight… you recognize that many times devout Christians have different and conflicting views of the Bible and Christianity. Then you say that there is only ONE correct interpretation of the Bible, but it’s okay if different Christians don’t agree on this interpretation because they’re all eligible for heaven anyway…

    And on top of all this, even if I were to concede as truth your statement that “the bible reflects that universal truth”, it still doesn’t change the fact that these same conservative Christians would be interpretting this Universal Truth ™ in different and conflicting ways.

    So really… what is the color of the sky in your world? ‘Cause I’m pretty sure you ain’t seein’ blue!

  48. #48 Pseudonym
    February 7, 2007

    In the US, atheists are supposedly one of the most distrusted groups around. I think Ed is right: This is not the way to kill that notion.

    Having said that, this is nothing new. In the days since the rise of the media (e.g. the great newspaper era of the late 19th century), when a group “comes out”, be it the new atheist movement, the suffragette movement, the environmental movement, the slavery abolitionist movement, the anti-abortion movement or the gay rights movement, there is always a bunch of loud people who act up and tarnish the image of the movement for a generation.

    When I was seven, I was convinced that homosexuality meant taking your shirt off and dancing down Oxford Street in Sydney. Now I know better; most homosexual people are perfectly normal people who don’t necessarily like disco any more than anyone else, who aren’t necessarily better interior decorators than anyone else, and who just want to be treated as normal people and life their life in peace. But there are still people around who speak of “the gay lifestyle”, as if homosexual people were also homogeneous. How many decades will it take to finally kill that idea?

    Every new movement, good or bad, has a lunatic fringe. Unless the movement as a whole is a lunatic fringe, of course.

    So if you’re tempted to take part in this contest, you should realise that you may well be the lunatic fringe yourself. Atheists are supposed to be rational. Those who take part in this contest are not behaving that way. You, and nobody else, may be responsible for a generation of people thinking that all atheists are obnoxious arseholes.

    This is has nothing to do with respect for religion, this is about respect for your atheist friends and the atheists who are to come after you.

  49. #49 argystokes
    February 7, 2007

    Heddle,

    One news broadcast about the blasphemy challenge can be found here: http://youtube.com/watch?v=Y_n_UBK_Ex8

    At 4 minutes in, Paul De Vries (President of the New York Divinity School) implies that this act may be sufficient for damnation.

  50. #50 J. J. Ramsey
    February 7, 2007

    On the one hand, I’m certainly not impressed with the issuers of the Blasphemy Challenge. Nothing says “fundamentalist atheist” like referring to theism as a “mind disorder,” as the so-called Rational Responders do. On the other hand, not everyone who has taken up the challenge has been as crass as they have. It’s been a mixed bag, ranging from “teh thiests are stoopid” to someone pointing out that the various doctrines that would have made the Trinity less mysterious are all heresies. I have a problem with atheists being strident and sloppy, not with them being vocal, and while the people who started this whole challenge are the former, at least some of the blaspheming YouTubers are the latter.

  51. #51 doctorgoo
    February 7, 2007

    I dunno, JJ, I viewed argystokes’ youtube link, and it looks like the Rational Responders make some interesting and valid points.

    While I agree that the Blasphemy Challenge was just a rude publicity stunt, it was successful in that it allowed them to spread their real message that religion isn’t required to have a moral society.

  52. #52 waldteufel
    February 7, 2007

    The great thing about this and other science blogs is that dissenting opinions are not erased, as they are on many christian fundie and ID blogs.

    This is free speech at its best. Many opinions, some very passionate, but all heard.

    The kids taking part in the “Blasphemy Challenge” are well within their rights, and I don’t think they reflect poorly on anyone. If you don’t like what they do, that’s your issue, not theirs.

  53. #53 David Heddle
    February 7, 2007

    Jim Lippard,

    I’m not sure what you are getting at. It was certainly Satan who tempted David, as God tempts no one (James 1:13.) Taken together, these passages remind us of a dual role: Satan tempts, but God permits the action, one that he surely could have prevented–this is statement of God’s sovereignty–that Satan cannot act outside of God’s permissive will. This is evident in the case of Job, for whom Satan had to receive permission from God to torture, and also Peter whom Satan requested permission to sift as wheat (Luke 22:31.) This is a very common duality in scripture–God permits something, but uses agents to carry out the action. Yet another example: it is perfectly accurate to say that God caused Judah to end up captive in Babylon, and at the same time to say that Nebuchadnezzar was the cause. Even in our own language, we might say “George Bush waged war on Iraq” which would be accurate, and “the US Military waged war on Iraq,” which would also be accurate.

    Tulle,

    I can only say I am amazed that in 49 years you have met only one Christian family. I have me hundreds, both before and after I became a Christian (after first becoming a physicist) who would give you the shirts off their back. Although Christians behaving badly makes for a better story, it is quite easy to document Christians behaving chariatably.

    Doctorgoo,

    First you say that “almost all Christians agree”, and then you describe your definition of “most conservative Christians”. All this means to me is that you’re conceding the point that Christians in general have a large diversity of Bible interpretations.

    Why, of course. Only a fool would not concede that Christians differ greatly in their interpretations. Surely I never stated otherwise. That does not mean that there is not one, possibly never derived, correct interpretation. Same is true in science. We have string theory and quantum loop gravity. Both cannot be correct–and perhaps neither is–but that doesn’t change the fact that there is, somewhere, a correct explanation of quantum gravity.

    This is not a difficult concept. Why you are having trouble is not clear. Let me give an example. Some people interpret the bible to support the Calvinist position that a certain group of people (the elect) are chosen before the foundation of time, and this group God will bring to salvation through grace by giving them a saving faith. Others interpret scripture’s salvation plan in the Arminian view–which argues that all people have an equal chance for salvation. Obviously both views cannot be correct, although they can both be wrong. Scripture, however, reflects universal and unchanging truth regardless of whether anyone ever interprets it correctly. Finally, a theology test is not required for salvation–both groups agree that a saving faith in Christ is all that is required–though they disagree on how one comes by that faith.

    Thus, you see, we acknowledge that while scripture contains absolute truth, all men must admit that their interpretation of scripture could be wrong. But salvation, thankfully, does not demand an inerrant interpretation.

    Argystokes,

    Thanks, I’m going to listen now.

  54. #54 GH
    February 7, 2007

    That does not mean that there is not one, possibly never derived, correct interpretation.

    Lets grant for a second your assertion that out of that jumbled mess of contradictions this is true. How could you possibly ever know it?

    Scripture, however, reflects universal and unchanging truth regardless of whether anyone ever interprets it correctly

    And how do you know this?

    Only a fool would not concede that Christians differ greatly in their interpretations

    Thats all anyone has been saying, that and it’s impossible to know which version is correct so hence each has value to the holder and all have equal value since outside of reality it is impossible to know which if any are correct.

    I did not put words in Doctorgoos mouth. What are you thinking? Did I write “she is not to be stoned but removed from the church” as if I were quoting him? I’ll answer for you: no I did not. Good grief.

    I have no idea what your talking about here at all. I simply referenced doctorgoo’s comment in that I agreed with his comment above mine.

    And so you think it is perfectly fine for someone to say that many Christian scholars disagree, but out of bounds for me to request a reference for that claim?

    No it’s not out of bounds, it’s a waste of time. Anyone can do a quick google search and find conflicting doctrines on any issue or idea.

    that while scripture contains absolute truth, all men must admit that their interpretation of scripture could be wrong. But salvation, thankfully, does not demand an inerrant interpretation.

    That is borderline absurd. Depending on which church you are attending having the correct view IS seen as being vital.

  55. #55 doctorgoo
    February 7, 2007

    Comparing religion and science this way? I daresay that’s a losing proposition! Various simplifications of religious concepts to mathematical or scientific principles have been repeatedly refuted by Ed and many others on scienceblogs. It’s hardly worth the effort to mention the obvious, but religion doesn’t require the logic that science or math require.

    You say “salvation… does not demand an inerrant interpretation”; this is basically saying that a Christian doesn’t need to understand how one must behave to be a Christian and therefore get into heaven.

    It would be more correct to admit that both conflicting interpretations are entirely correct in that, according to your ‘logic’, both of them are acceptible to God, and that neither lead to eternal damnation.

  56. #56 doctorgoo
    February 7, 2007

    I have no idea what your talking about here at all. I simply referenced doctorgoo’s comment in that I agreed with his comment above mine.

    I agree GH, I couldn’t figure out David’s point either.

    DH, if you consider this point important, then please clarify…

  57. #57 Pseudonym
    February 7, 2007

    doctorgoo:

    While I agree that the Blasphemy Challenge was just a rude publicity stunt, it was successful in that it allowed them to spread their real message that religion isn’t required to have a moral society.

    I don’t recall discussion of “moral society” anywhere in the blasphemers’ videos (though I may have missed some).

    On the contrary, the “challenge” was more successful in spreading the message that religion is required to have a civilised conversation.

  58. #58 David Heddle
    February 7, 2007

    Doctorgoo,

    You say “salvation… does not demand an inerrant interpretation”; this is basically saying that a Christian doesn’t need to understand how one must behave to be a Christian and therefore get into heaven.

    That is true–proper behavior does not make one a Christian, saving faith does. However, scripture also tells us, in the “golden chain” of Romans 8:30 (And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.) and elsewhere that God will complete his work, so that we expect “Christian living” as an effect, not a cause of salvation–a truth that is taught so bluntly in the book of James–and which again leads us to what was on the other thread, that we are to judge those claiming to be believers by their actions.

    It would be more correct to admit that both conflicting interpretations are entirely correct in that, according to your ‘logic’, both of them are acceptible to God, and that neither lead to eternal damnation.

    No, it would defy logic to admit that conflicting views can both be correct. And such sub-logic is not required for accepting the proposition that, while God wants us to study scripture and be prepared to give a defense of our faith, as Peter tells us, no where does it tell us that we must be achieve an inerrant understanding in our reading.

    Argystrokes,

    I watched the video, and again I thank you. In my opinion, Paul De Vries falls far short of claiming that what they are doing is, in fact, the unpardonable sin. He says, in effect, they are playing with fire. I certainly would not disagree with that. He does not state that all is now lost for those who made the video, which is what the challenge implies that Christianity would claim. So I have as yet not seen any theologian who has argued that what they are doing is unforgivable–for good reason, it clearly is not. This publicity stunt is ultimately based on very faulty exegesis, but those enjoying it will have none of that inconvenient truth.

    It was interesting to hear the young woman atheist use exactly the same phrases that Christians who (mistakenly, in my opinion) view themselves as oppressed here in the US. She said things like, (paraphrasing), atheists are the only group it is acceptable to persecute. That is exactly what every group (including Christians) who claim persecution say. Hogwash. Dawkins and Harris have achieved fame and fortune and cult hero status in the US. Threatening emails do not constitute oppression–for crying out loud I get threatening emails. If you want to see real persecution, do not look for it here in the US.

  59. #59 Lowk
    February 7, 2007

    As others have touched upon, I think a possible part of the blasphemy challenge was aimed at showing young people that there is a diverse range of people at a similar age and with a similar experience that have the courage to say that they reject the religion that they were bought up with; basically, that they don’t have to be afraid because of what they don’t believe. Whether it was an effective way of reaching people like that is debatable, but I think that is a worthy cause.

  60. #60 waldteufel
    February 7, 2007

    Pseudonym,

    “On the contrary, the “challenge” was more successful in spreading the message that religion is required to have a civilised conversation.”

    The history of religion says quite the opposite.

    Religion has historically been the source of division, exclusion, tyranny, war, and death.

    Religion is the antithesis of reason, accomodation, and cooperation.

    Dawkins has is right: religion may not be the root of ALL evil, but it sure is the root of quite a lot of evil.

  61. #61 doctorgoo
    February 7, 2007

    That is true–proper behavior does not make one a Christian, saving faith does.

    You’re talking in circles here. How can one ask for forgiveness if he doesn’t even know if his behavior is good or sinful?

    it would defy logic to admit that conflicting views can both be correct.

    Yes, Christianity, like all religions that I’m aware of, utterly defies logic in many different ways.

  62. #62 GH
    February 7, 2007

    Threatening emails do not constitute oppression–for crying out loud I get threatening emails. If you want to see real persecution, do not look for it here in the US

    Perhaps then you should read the story from lastyearof the kindly atheist couple killed by the man they where trying to help because they where atheists. Or perhaps in another thread a southern woman nearly lost her job because of her unbelief.

    While I agree we are not lopping of heads don’t think for a second everyone feels same out there. Dawkins and Harris achieve what they achieve because they have the courage to say what many think privately.

    No, it would defy logic to admit that conflicting views can both be correct. And such sub-logic is not required for accepting the proposition that, while God wants us to study scripture and be prepared to give a defense of our faith, as Peter tells us, no where does it tell us that we must be achieve an inerrant understanding in our reading.

    So basically then choose what works best for you because it doens’t matter anyway and it’s impossible to know anything for certain. The mere fact that so many views conflict either reflects poor authorship or the simple fact that it was never meant to be what some think it is.

    so that we expect “Christian living” as an effect,

    Which of course is open to wide interpretation and meaning.

  63. #63 J. J. Ramsey
    February 7, 2007

    doctorgoo: “I dunno, JJ, I viewed argystokes’ youtube link, and it looks like the Rational Responders make some interesting and valid points.”

    That’s because they did make good points. If everything that I had seen from the Rational Responders had been as sane as what was presented on that Nightline segment on YouTube, I’d have no problem with them. Trouble is, the Responders sometimes go for dodgy arguments. For example, they endorse the whole “Jesus never existed” bit, and what I’ve seen from the Jesus-mythers has been at best baroque speculation that gets cut off by Occam’s Razor, and at worst is outright pseudohistory. From the clips I’ve seen of The God Who Wasn’t There, Flemming seems to be very much in the latter category. I don’t want to get into another long debate here on this, since such stuff has been hashed out ad nauseum before on the BC&H forum of IIDB. In short, I’ve seen the Rational Responders be less than rational, and I’d rather they not be that way.

  64. #64 doctorgoo
    February 7, 2007

    Okay JJ, I can buy that.

    I hadn’t researched them at all before today… and for the most part, I agree that there is a bit too much nonsense from them mixed in with their good points.

    It’s disappointing that they sometimes water down their message to include some easily refutable junk.

  65. #65 JimC
    February 7, 2007

    what I’ve seen from the Jesus-mythers has been at best baroque speculation that gets cut off by Occam’s Razor

    Please explain?

  66. #66 Brian X
    February 7, 2007

    I have to think the Blasphemy Challenge actually does serve a valuable purpose — giving the closeted nonbelievers a forum to proclaim their unbelief. Something like that has to be done — believers have monopolized the floor for too long. Time for the faithless — the rank and file, not just the prominent atheists (who many of the faithful just don’t trust anyway) — to grab the spotlight. It puts a human face on it, shows that faithlessness is not solely a product of the ivory tower.

  67. #67 Pseudonym
    February 7, 2007

    waldteufel: Nice way to evade the question.

    Even if you’re right, it’s completely irrelevant. Atheists are one of the least trusted minorities in the US today. This “challenge” plays right into the stereotype.

  68. #68 JimC
    February 7, 2007

    Pseudonym-

    So what should atheists do then?

  69. #69 Pseudonym
    February 7, 2007

    JimC: “Will E.” summed it up pretty well in one of the first comments in this tread.

    And like him, it makes me wish we still had Carl Sagan around. He would never have stood for this “challenge”.

  70. #70 beepbeepitsme
    February 7, 2007

    I see “The Blasphemy Challenge” as just a promotional tool. A way to advertise non-belief if you will. That theists have equally tacky advertising, says something about advertising in general.

  71. #71 Don
    February 7, 2007

    I just don’t see it as all that terrible, whether it is “true” blasphemy or not. And atheists already have a bad name. I think the only way to improve atheists images with some theists is by going away entirely.

    I have only watched a few of the videos because, frankly, they are boring and many of them are stupid and juvenile. However, when I first decided that, yes, I was an atheist, I felt a strong need to make a statement. I wanted to tell the world, “I reject your silly hypothesis and my logic is unassailable.” Of course my logic is assailable, and I still struggle with it and the evidence. On balance, though, I am quite comfortable with the evidence (or lack thereof)and the logic that supports my position. My point is I can totally understand why many others would feel the need to make a similar statement. It’s a stake in the ground, a commitement, a declaration of belief, and it can feel quite liberating. Defending that position can be much tougher.

    Anyway, I’m officially rambling now. (Darn, crazy atheist!)

  72. #72 Loren Michael
    February 8, 2007

    I think the blasphemy challenge is an excellent means of decrying popular superstitions. If the whole world’s gone mad, it seems necessary (and good) to popularize the notion of being sane.

  73. #73 Pseudonym
    February 8, 2007

    Don:

    And atheists already have a bad name. I think the only way to improve atheists images with some theists is by going away entirely.

    “Some” theists are a lost cause. The mostly silent majority are, IMO, not. Those people you want on your side, not theirs.

    You have to remember where Ed is coming from. Ed is on the coalface, trying to protect science education at the local level. You do that by making allies. The “Rational Response Squad” may, in small ways, have inadvertantly made his job much, much harder.

    But maybe Ed isn’t the person we should be asking. What does Tammy Kitzmiller think about this “challenge”?

  74. #74 Saint Gasoline
    February 8, 2007

    I don’t think the idea itself is pointless and juvenile. There are bound to be people who make these videos who don’t come across as the best representatives of atheism, but at the same time there are bound to be people who make very eloquent cases for their atheism.

    I think that the goal of this project is an admirable one. It is comparable to relatively recent movements for homosexual rights that emphasized “coming out of the closet”, and this strategy has worked wonders. Atheism, like homosexuality, is not something that can be seen straightaway like a person’s gender or skin color. This is why making it known that you are there is so vitally important. And I think this is the purpose of the blasphemy challenge.

    Are gay rights parades silly and juvenile? Of course! They are often quite absurd spectacles. But, the thing is, they are hardly pointless. Judging from how effective it has been, I’d say that theists could learn a thing or two from it, and the blasphemy challenge is a move in the right direction.

  75. #75 Chris' Wills
    February 8, 2007

    Loren Michael wrote:
    I think the blasphemy challenge is an excellent means of decrying popular superstitions. If the whole world’s gone mad, it seems necessary (and good) to popularize the notion of being sane.>>

    So are you claiming that only atheists are sane?

    I have no objection to people spouting whatever they like, free speach is an absolute good, in my opinion.

    However, the problems associated with fundamentalist (Stalinist as opposed to Chamberlain) atheists is their use of the same tactics as the IDiots and creationists. Making a loud noise and insulting (claiming that they are irational, deluded etc) others and claiming the mantle of science as belonging only to you makes enemies not friends.

    Science is Agnostic, it does not address untestable things as its methodology forbids this and evry piece of information produced by science is contingent.
    So, for example, String theory is not a scientific theory; it is an hypothesis that has made no predictions that have been proven (tested and test result matches prediction) by experiment. Just because many physicists believe in it doesn’t make it science.
    When science doesn’t know the answer or if the answer is outside its methodology scientists should say “don’t know, but I’ll see if I can develop a way to find out” note the “don’t know” that is part of being agnostic and it is not a flaw.

    Now an atheist may claim that only the natural exists, however that is philosophical naturalism/materialism; it is not science as science only tests natural things.

    I can claim to be a Platonist, science cannot yet test platonist claims just as it cannot test philosophical naturalist/materialist claims. In fact, as science is methodologically naturalistic it can never test philosophical naturalist/materialist claims as science only tests natural/material things and so you get circular reasoning.

    It is the attempt to abrogate science to themselves that annoys me about the fundamentalist atheists, it is a mis-representation of what science is.

    Those of us who care about science and desire that it should be taught as what it is will find the task harder now because of the untruths told about it by the stalinist atheists. That is why fundamentalist atheists annoy me, they have become what they claim to despise.

  76. #76 MartinC
    February 8, 2007

    I have to disagree with Ed here.
    To me, the most interesting aspect of this challenge is the media reactions to it. Have a look at the abc news report on youtube that argystrokes linked or that recent fauxnews rant.
    The abc report had three or four believers AND the reporter who used Pascals wager as the entire basis of their argument against the blasphemy challenge. Maybe it was selectively edited but that sort of argument isnt even used by Kent Hovind any more (well until his recent troubles) as it can so easily be turned against the proponent.
    The whole rationalist movement (I dont really like the term atheist myself) has been likened to herding cats but it is seemingly silly and juvenile things like this challenge and the response to them that is finally allowing us to come out into the open and form a community, rather than staying quiet and knowing our place.

  77. #77 jpf
    February 8, 2007

    Pseudonym:

    Even if you’re right, it’s completely irrelevant. Atheists are one of the least trusted minorities in the US today. This “challenge” plays right into the stereotype.

    Isn’t this essentially the same argument that D’Souza makes?

    The fact is that atheists in general and the atheists making those videos in particular do deny the Holy Spirit. It’s not blasphemy to them since they are merely stating their honest position, however ineloquently.

    While it’s obviously done for the sake of confrontation, so were the Mohammad cartoons. So are the calls, in the face of appeasers like D’Souza, to proudly assert those things that the terrorists hate us for. There’s nothing wrong with confrontation when there’s something that needs confronting, and with the rise in recent years of religious influence on politics and culture (above and beyond the already depressingly high previous levels, of course) with the resulting attitude among the religious that only they matter, its understandable that those who don’t believe feel the need to voice the simple fact that they still exist and aren’t going to go sit at the back of the bus like obedient little second-class citizens.

    The distrust of atheists by the religious isn’t based on anything atheists do or don’t do. It’s based on theists defining all that is good and right and American as flowing from religious beliefs. Atheists don’t have those beliefs, therefore how can you trust them? If atheists were to just shut up, nothing would change in that equation, so why bother with appeasement?

  78. #78 Chris' Wills
    February 8, 2007

    MartinC wrote:
    The whole rationalist movement (I dont really like the term atheist myself) has been likened to herding cats but it is seemingly silly and juvenile things like this challenge and the response to them that is finally allowing us to come out into the open and form a community, rather than staying quiet and knowing our place.>>

    Are you claiming that only those who adhere to your belief set are rational?

    This abuse of words is annoying and comes from both sets of fundamentalists, George Orwell showed clearly (in the book 1984) that language is a powerful tool and by trying to claim rational for your belief set you are being disingenuous at best.

    What is a rational action for you may not be a rational act for me to take.
    Again, as previously mentioned, your philosophy is no more provable in an absolute sense than anyone elses and so no more “rational”.

    I would suggest that it would do everyone good to “know their place” and realise that they (me included) have little claim to being better, more honest, more rational etc than anyone else.

    Yes, proselytizes your beliefs but do you require to denigrate others while you do so. If so, you are no better than the worst of those you castigate.

    I am interested at this concept of an atheistic community. Will you have vetting and black-balling?
    Will you want to have atheist only suburbs?
    Will there be a compliance test, only the purist atheists need apply?

    There are already clubs where atheists and agnostics and theists come together form communities; golf clubs are an obvious example.

    What value would you gain from an atheist community apart from, possibly, moral support?

  79. #79 MartinC
    February 8, 2007

    Chris, as far as I am aware Youtube is not exactly a christian church, its an free for all video hosting site.
    I am not a fundamentalist by the way, like a lot of others I would be prepared to change my mind if I was provided with some evidence. The fact that there is as much evidence for the existence of the Christian God as there is for Thor, Ra, Zeus and the FSM is not really my problem. The simple statement made by blasphemy challenge participants is highly region specific. To the vast majority of people on Earth theres nothing wrong with it – in fact they believe (or dont believe) the very same thing. Its only the small minority of christians – and probably even a subset of those, with particularly bigoted views – that have a major problem with it.

  80. #80 Pseudonym
    February 8, 2007

    jpf:

    Isn’t this essentially the same argument that D’Souza makes?

    That’s a good question, and I had to think about it for a moment.

    (Note, from now on, “you” and “your” refers to a generic person, not you jpf.)

    The main difference is that D’Souza wants you to be less free, where “freedom” is the main identifying feature of liberal democracy. That is, he wants your liberal democracy to be less liberal and less democratic.

    I, on the other hand, want you to be more rational, where rationality should be the main identifying feature of atheism.

    Every time you act freely, you are living the ideal of liberal democracy. But every time you act like a juvenile arsehole you are, in effect, acting against the ideals of atheism. Not because atheism has to be serious, but because it should make rational arguments, not cheap shots.

    As the FSM himself said:

    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.

    RAmen.

    Make sense? Note: I haven’t thought this through very much, so I might have left something out here. Sorry about that.

    Actually, while I think of it, I hereby deny Eris. I’m not sure what I’m going to deny her, though. I’ll have to consult my pineal gland.

  81. #81 Chris' Wills
    February 8, 2007

    MartinC wrote:
    Chris, as far as I am aware Youtube is not exactly a christian church, its an free for all video hosting site.
    I am not a fundamentalist by the way, like a lot of others I would be prepared to change my mind if I was provided with some evidence. The fact that there is as much evidence for the existence of the Christian God as there is for Thor, Ra, Zeus and the FSM is not really my problem. The simple statement made by blasphemy challenge participants is highly region specific. To the vast majority of people on Earth theres nothing wrong with it – in fact they believe (or dont believe) the very same thing. Its only the small minority of christians – and probably even a subset of those, with particularly bigoted views – that have a major problem with it.>>

    I never mentioned YouTube or church, I was commenting on the possible value of an atheist community.

    Did you mean “Its only a small minority of christians…” or are you comparing the percentage of those claiming to be christian is a minority of the worlds population?
    Just seeking clarification, as if the second then all belief sets are minorities, some smaller than others but all minorities.
    As for the causing offence, as mainstream mohameddans claim that the christian holy spirit “paraclete” actually refers to their prophet they may not be enamoured of the denial either.

    I agree that all religions don’t believe in all the rules that other religions claim came from god and in some cases would say that the god worshipped is false. Atheists just deny one more god than monotheists is a comment I’ve seen explaining this.

    As for Thor, you might be suprised, in some parts of the world the sign of the hammer is still made.
    As for the older religions, if someone practiced them and didn’t break the law of the land or try and infringe my liberties by so doing, I wouldn’t knowingly cause them offence.

    I would still suggest that deliberately setting out to offend others, the right to do so is in no way being questioned, isn’t likely to be productive in the long run; unless the only aim was for young people to feel good about expressing their philosophy and offend some christians (please note, I don’t know if those railing against it are christians as there are a number of exclusive sects claiming the title).

    I apologise for the use of fundamentalist, the term was used only refering to those trying to reserve rational for their side of the debate.

    rAmen

  82. #82 MartinC
    February 8, 2007

    Chris, I actually said “THE small minority of christians”, referring to the fact that christians of whatever denomination are in no way the norm for current human belief systems worldwide (and that is one thing you would never get from looking at the media coverage – its covered as if the kids are saying ‘I deny gravity’).
    While there is a chance that some christians would get offended by this sort of stunt its not exactly a situation whereby the blasphemers are entering churches or church messageboards to proclaim their lack of belief in this christian dogma. To get offended you pretty much have to go looking it in the first place.
    As for the semantic question, there is a problem here.
    There isnt a recognised term that has been defined to describe the secular humanistic non faith based position where many “atheists” find themselves.
    I dont feel comfortable with the claim that I have the same belief system as Pol Pot, Hitler or Stalin when I clearly dont, yet the term atheist is commomly used in this regard.
    Finally I would point out that one of the major points in this whole debate (and most pointedly illustrated by the regular PZ/Ed kerfuffles) is that of political expediency, not questions of right or wrong.

  83. #83 David Heddle
    February 8, 2007

    Doctorgoo

    Perhaps then you should read the story from lastyearof the kindly atheist couple killed by the man they where trying to help because they where atheists. Or perhaps in another thread a southern woman nearly lost her job because of her unbelief.

    Proof by anecdote. If I counter with isolated incidents of Christians/Moslems/Jews/Gays/IDers/Rightest-Professors/Leftist-Professors/Blacks/Asians/Causcasions who are targeted for what they happen to be, does that constitute proof that Christians/Moslems/Jews/Gays/IDers/Rightest-Professors/Leftist-Professors/Blacks/Asians/Causcasions are the “only group for which it is still OK to persecute?”

    It, in fact, is no more politically correct to persecute atheists than, say Christians. Was PZ denied tenure because of his atheism? Was his tenure revoked? Was he forced to move from his home?

    Atheists want to claim their status as an especially persecuted group, indeed “the” persecuted group in America. Well, take a number.There are a lot of whiners ahead of you.

  84. #84 Chris' Wills
    February 8, 2007

    Martin, I’ve no arguement with the fact that compared to the world’s population christians are a minority, just as every belief set is. I’m actually very happy about this as I wouldn’t want any belief set to gain dominance either politically or physically.

    Well the publicity did the stunt no harm and yes people had to visit YouTube to see what the fuss was about, however, I found out about this challenge on scienceblogs (guess whose blog) and so it was publicised by atheists. It had to be publicised otherwise no one would have taken it and the DVD wouldn’t have got lots of free publicity.

    The semantic question is important. The meaning of words is important especially words which have technical and colloquial meanings such as rational, sane, logical.
    It is an IDiot trick to try and twist the meaning of words.

    I agree that being lumped in with the likes of Pol Pot, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung etc isn’t fair to most non-theists (“don’t believe in god” rather than atheist which means “no god”) but the same thing is done against christians (the inquistion, Calvin in Geneva etc); muslims (various slaughters in India, slavery even upto today etc).

    But you gave a term yourself “secular humanistic” one could hardly claim that Stalin was a humanist. It isn’t short and pithy but like agnostic platonists most peoples belief set is complicated rather than simple.

    I disagree about it being about political expediency; for me it has been about science and ensuring that science remains wedded to methodological naturalism and remains agnostic (questioning, never absolutely certain).

    I argue against the creationists and IDiots because “god did it” is anti-science; I argue against atheists who want to claim science as being atheistic and that only atheists can be true scientists because it is plainly wrong, anyone can follow the rules of methodological naturalism.

    I also argue against those who claim “Truth” for their side, yes I know that you haven’t done so, but ‘warriors in their own minds’ on all sides do so.

  85. #85 doctorgoo
    February 8, 2007

    DH,

    FYI, @7:04 this morning, you misattributed a quote to me. It was written by GH at 9:16 last night.

    Actually, I mostly agree with your point there. You are correct to imply that virtually every group in America has been the target of persecution at one time or another. The only partial exception would be white, male Protestants, who typically run everything in this country.

    So why is this important? Because White, Male Protestants are the ones who are more likely to hate atheists more than any other group. There have been polls taken that asked who was the “least trustworthy” group in the US, and atheists always ‘win’, coming out ahead of even Muslims (who many on the right equate with terrorists).

    So while he might have been going too far when implying that atheists were treated the worst, they certainly are treated much worse than Christians in the past 100+ years in America. Or do you deny this?

    In fact, this discrimination (I don’t think it should be called persecution) against atheists by Christians is the main reason why atheists for the most part, stay closeted, therefore making the ‘coming out party’ called the Blasphemy Challenge all the more important.

  86. #86 Misanthrope
    February 8, 2007

    However, your post about this juvenile and stupid stunt recieved one of your highest comment counts in a while. Heh.

  87. #87 David Heddle
    February 8, 2007

    Doctorgoo,

    I apologize for the erroneous attribution.

    Of course I would not deny that atheists face discrimination. Nor do I suspect that you’d deny that one can find incidents of discrimination against Christians, even in this country. And my gut feeling is that you are certainly correct, that atheists in the US have historically faced much more discrimination than Christians–though not nearly as much as other groups. However, it is not, as some suggest, still OK or still PC to discriminate against or persecute or hate atheists. Those who enforce affirmative action/equal opportunity/fair housing laws do not look the other way when the victim is an atheist. No Christian that I know, not even any of those white male Protestants, and I know quite a few, targets atheists in any manner whatsoever, except perhaps for proselytizing. No job search process that I was ever involved with–either when hiring faculty or in private industry, ever questioned a person regarding his religious beliefs or lack thereof, or watched to see if the candidate prayed before eating lunch. (With the exception of searching for a pastor.)

    As for staying closeted, I encounter atheists all the time, everyday. (True, I live in New England, not Alabama.) I don’t really believe there is a great deal of “being in the closet” going on, and I certainly don’t believe, as you wrote, that atheists are for the most part staying in the closet.

    I looked at the Nightline video again. The young woman “Kelly” from Rational Response stated that atheists are “completely vilified” and that atheists are “the last group that people overwhelmingly agree is OK to hate.

    That is utter bullshit, and an entirely irrational response. Of course, I’m sure many atheists buy it hook, line, and sinker, because it is appealing to wear that badge, especially when you’re actually quite safe–just like many Christians claim it’s considered OK to hate them.

  88. #88 J. J. Ramsey
    February 8, 2007

    Me: “what I’ve seen from the Jesus-mythers has been at best baroque speculation that gets cut off by Occam’s Razor”

    JimC “Please explain?”

    What I mean is speculation that could conceivably be true but is an overly complicated and stretched interpretation of the evidence at hand, or is even poorly supported by the evidence, period. One example of commentary on such speculation is the IIDB thread entitled Middle Platonism and Missing Evidence.

  89. #89 doctorgoo
    February 8, 2007

    DH, If you want to argue that it’s utter BS for Kelly to claim that atheists are “the last group that people overwhelmingly agree is OK to hate”, then I suggest you take that up with Kelly.

    But this is different from what I (and others on this thread) said, which is that atheists are the “least trustworthy” group in America. Do you claim this is utter BS too?

    An aside: What Kelly said is basically just an exagerated version of what I (and others) wrote. But instead of addressing me directly, you tried to twist things around so that we’re debating something different. (I’m not sure if I should be impressed by your ability to frame the argument on your terms, or disappointed that you showed intellectual dishonesty by arguing a strawman version of what I said.) lol

  90. #90 David Heddle
    February 8, 2007

    dg,

    Not guilty-my first entry into the “atheists are persecuted” subthread came when I told argystokes I had watched the video and I reported on what “Kelly” said. Any deviation from Kelly’s version was after the fact and not my doing, and not my attempt to frame the discussion. I have stayed focussed on her claims that it’s PC and overwhelmingly popular to hate atheists, and I did not take your claims or anyone else’s and substitute her views as a strawman. I suggest you review the thread.

    What does “least trustworthy” mean, anyway? I believe some polls also name polticians or journalists as least trustworthy. Are they persecuted? If atheists are “least trustworthy” it just means a lot of people don’t like them as a group. So what? That is not the same as being persecuted. Atheists are afforded the full protection of the law, and people who target them are not exempted from prosecution. If people do not like atheists as a group (which I’m sure everyone knows is hardly the same as hating any actual atheists you know, let alone persecuting atheists) that’s life. No group has a right to be liked or considered trustworthy. If that’s all you got, you ain’t got much.

  91. #91 Shmuel
    February 8, 2007

    “I deny the Holy Spirit.”

    More evidence that the evangeical atheist cult is merely another branch of Christianity. Hilarious. Have you considered Satan worship?

  92. #92 Shmuel
    February 8, 2007

    And now “atheists are persecuted” too.

    Just like ancient Rome, huh? Too rich.

  93. #93 doctorgoo
    February 8, 2007

    I did not take your claims or anyone else’s and substitute her views as a strawman. I suggest you review the thread.

    Do you not remember me agreeing that persecution is too strong a word and that I preferred ‘discrimination’ better? I’m sure you do. So if you’re still arguing a different point, then why are you addressing your comments to me?

    Perhaps you’re the one who needs to review the thread more carefully!

    (or better yet, maybe we might both recognize that at 90+ comments spread over two dates, this thread has become rather cumbersome for anyone to follow. I admit, I’m starting to get bored with our domination of this thread) lol

    What does “least trustworthy” mean, anyway?

    I don’t get it, which of the two words do you need defined for you?

    Atheists are afforded the full protection of the law, and people who target them are not exempted from prosecution.

    Your point that the law equally protects atheists from discrimination is nonsense. The fact is, and you previously conceded it, is that they face more discrimination than Christians. And indeed, this discrimination in the US against atheists is primarily committed by Christians as well (which I’m sure you’re also willing to concede).

    The point shouldn’t be that the punishments are the same for discrimination against Christians and atheists, but that the discrimination is much more rampant against one from than the other.

    If people do not like atheists as a group… that’s life.

    That would be fine if you could actually come up with a rational reason why they are disliked so much. But I doubt that you, or anyone else, can.

  94. #94 Puskara
    February 8, 2007

    I can see why people think it is a bad idea. i mean look at gay folk.

    They keep having these parades, holding up traffic and such and they flaunt their personal views to people around them who don’t care or who disagree. With their strident and angry cries of “Were here, were queer, get used to it!”

    After all, all that marching and being up front about who they are has not gotten them anywhere has it?

    I will be honest I love this blog and the people who post here are good thoughtful folks but it seems to me on this issue they are just cowed by the overwhelming societal expectation that Atheist shut up or get out.

    The entire point is to make people angry, to throw them off their balance. The blasphemy challenge has been getting national coverage and is really hot on YouTube. Since the purpose is to make people more aware of Atheists and to make our presence normative instead of a dirty little secret in the closet it seems to be doing exactly what it was intended to do.

    The truth is that calm and rational discussion only work with a) those who have the free time to discuss such matters and b) those who care to do so. Seeing that the majority of the country is either to busy to look into the subject or does not wish to willingly challenge their view of what America, Americans, and the nature of the world is. We are left with few options.

    If calm, unoffensive, and rational discussion worked why do we not have better politicians in Washington D.C.? Because the masses prefer to be in comfortable ignorance. So who gets in? People who are charismatic, who make a stir, who cause trouble.

    So we can sit back and remain second class citizens. Speaking to those precious few who are interested in what we have to say or we can grap the megaphone and shout it out in the town square.

    People will be angry and will be annoyed, so what? Over time public Atheism will become normative and once that happens. Once there is an Atheist/Secularist/Naturalist (take your pick) on every discussion panel on MSNBC and CNN. When Wolf Blitzer says on national TV that politicians are scrambling to appease American voters who believe that our government should be secular then I think that is the time to discuss whether or not the volume should be turned down.

    I am disturned by the number of Atheists/Secularists/Naturalists who indulge in the fantasy that we can leapfrog from a culture dominated by religion to a secular culture that treats everyone equally. We certainly are not there now and we have had to fight for every step forward from the 18th century. Why should the acceptance of Atheists be any different than the acceptance of women in the workplace, gays in…well anywhere, womens suffrage, etc…?

    Puskara

  95. #95 Raging Bee
    February 8, 2007

    …it seems to me on this issue they are just cowed by the overwhelming societal expectation that Atheist shut up or get out.

    Where, exactly, does ANYONE say this ANYWHERE? This willful distortion of other people’s words is typical of childish atheists who relentlessly confuse basic tact with “shutting up.” No, we’re not asking you to shut your mouths; we’re asking you to open your minds, and think a little about how others might respond to your words — just like all other adults are expected to do in our daily lives.

    The entire point is to make people angry, to throw them off their balance. The blasphemy challenge has been getting national coverage and is really hot on YouTube. Since the purpose is to make people more aware of Atheists and to make our presence normative instead of a dirty little secret in the closet it seems to be doing exactly what it was intended to do.

    Oooh, it’s hot on YouTube, just like Britney’s crotch-shots! That must mean everyone who sees it thinks you’re right, right?

    That’s funny — when people make stupid and insulting remarks about atheists and Pagans, it’s pointless, bigoted, dishonest, and hurtful; but when atheists make similarly stupid and insulting remarks about theists, it’s “throwing them off their balance” and “consciousness-raising.” Tell me, Puskara, is your consciousness raised when a Christian says that atheists have no morals? Are you grateful for that contribution to the public debate about religion? And who, exactly, has been “thrown off balance” by this fake-blasphemy crap? What positive effect has this throwing-off-balance expected to have?

    I am disturned by the number of Atheists/Secularists/Naturalists who indulge in the fantasy that we can leapfrog from a culture dominated by religion to a secular culture that treats everyone equally.

    Who are you talking about? I’ve never heard anyone say that.

    We certainly are not there now and we have had to fight for every step forward from the 18th century.

    Yes — and “fighting,” in either the political or the military battlefield, must be done wisely, and battles must be chosen wisely, in order to win the struggle. “We have to fight” does NOT mean we have to match theist stupidity with atheist stupidity every chance we get — especially when such stupidity distracts public attention away from the important issues.

  96. #96 stogoe
    February 8, 2007

    I come late to the party, saying only that this is standard phoned-in Ed Brayton. “You guys are being seen and heard. Stop it or they’ll get mad at us.”

  97. #97 stogoe
    February 8, 2007

    Raging Bee must not have seen the CNN ‘panel’ on “Why are atheists the most hated pieces of crap in the shitcan?”. Go see the transcript, there are at least a dozen shouts of ‘shut up’ there.

    Also, Ed’s attitude can be summed up as “let the religious moderates walk over you so we can lose this culture war already.”

  98. #98 Jason I.
    February 8, 2007

    I’m not here to argue with anyone, I’m not here to defend anyone’s position. I’m just here to post my opinion and answer any questions anyone has about it.

    I guess I just don’t understand how these Blasphemy Challenge messages are meaningful to the people that post them. As atheists, it seems that all they are saying is that they reject something that is not meaningful to them, and is only meaningful to a group that they have decided they don’t want to be a part of. I personally don’t care if a religious person thinks I’m going to hell or purgatory or heaven. I don’t believe in those concepts, so their opinion on such things just doesn’t matter to me. I’m not suggesting at all that atheists (or agnostics, of which I’m an apathetic one) sit down and shut up. I guess I’m just confused how claiming to reject a concept that is only meaningful to religious people can have meaning to individual atheists. I guess a more meaningful message in my eyes would be “I’m an atheist because [insert reason here].”

  99. #99 Raging Bee
    February 8, 2007

    Also, Ed’s attitude can be summed up as “let the religious moderates walk over you so we can lose this culture war already.”

    So you can’t tell the difference between finding common ground with religious moderates, and letting them walk all over you? You sound extermely insecure, and lacking in self-confidence. In fact, you sound downright self-centered, paranoid and delusional. At the very least, you need to learn how to work and play effectively with others.

  100. #100 David Heddle
    February 8, 2007

    stogoe,

    The problem is the culture war is a myth. A few people hate atheists, but not a lot of people. Some people hate Christians, but not very many. I know it ruins all your fun, but we theists, for the most part, simply are not worried or fearful or concerned about the atheists, militant or otherwise, with whom we’ve always shared the country and with whom we always will. You are our neighbors, our colleagues and our friends, not our enemies. Often we’d rather do stuff with you: have a drink, go to a ballgame, have lunch, than with our acquaintances who are believers. Most of us are not concerned about you getting elected to office, partly because many of us don’t actually believe the professed theism of many politicians anyway. Most of us are not concerned that you are teachers, lawyers, doctors, and scientists. Only the really noisy are, well making noise. Sam Harris (when he isn’t dabbling in ESP or reincarnation), fundamentalists who, like Harris, want to sell books (often about Satan’s world government–an end-times view that ironically should welcome this rampant apostasy as a sign the end is near), and some IDers who want to deflect attention from their lack of research. And of course the blog traveling followers of all the above. But the vast majority of the Christians and atheists are noncombatants and not even very interested in this itty-bitty culture war (insignificant skirmish, actually) that gets you so riled up.

    Let the religious moderates walk over you.

    What a gas. Sorry, but nobody is walking over you, because nobody cares about you. You’re all dressed up in crisp new over-the-counter fatigues and pretending to be in a fight, but there is nobody across the line, because regardless of how much ink Dawkins or Harris get, we (garden variety theists) simply regard them as jokes, not threats.

  101. #101 Ed Brayton
    February 8, 2007

    stogoe wrote:

    I come late to the party, saying only that this is standard phoned-in Ed Brayton. “You guys are being seen and heard. Stop it or they’ll get mad at us.”…

    Raging Bee must not have seen the CNN ‘panel’ on “Why are atheists the most hated pieces of crap in the shitcan?”. Go see the transcript, there are at least a dozen shouts of ‘shut up’ there.

    Also, Ed’s attitude can be summed up as “let the religious moderates walk over you so we can lose this culture war already.”

    Give me a fucking break. I said nothing whatsoever about some unnamed “they” getting mad at anyone, nor would I give a shit if anyone did. If there is one thing that no one in their right mind would ever accuse me of, it is of caring whether people get mad at me (or anyone else) if I or they are right in what they say. Nor does this have anything at all to do with religious moderates walking all over anyone. I am all for atheists standing up to mistreatment. I’m all for atheists making vigorous arguments for their position and criticizing religion. For crying out loud, how many times have I written essays about such mistreatment, about the many misconceptions about atheists and atheism, or about the absolute right to criticize any religious belief? In just the last two days I have blasted CNN for their ridiculous panel discussion on the mistreatment of atheists and raged against a proposed law that would prohibit criticism of religion. Do I really sound like the kind of person who thinks atheists should just shut and not say anything bad about religion? No one who is not blinded by zealotry could possibly believe that I am.

    But that does not mean that every criticism is going to be justified. Claiming that anyone who believes in god is stupid or deluded is not justified; it isn’t true. They may be wrong, and I’m all for a vigorous discussion of why they are or aren’t, but the blanket dismissal of all religious people as stupid or deluded is ridiculous. Me saying so does not mean I think atheists should suppress their dissent, it means I think the people making such arguments are wrong. And it doesn’t mean that every statement made against religion is mature, meaningful or worth making. I’ve watched a bunch of the blasphemy challenge videos and didn’t find a single statement in them that was worth considering. They were either one sentence statements (“I, Joe Blow, reject God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit”). Well good for you, so do I. But you haven’t actually said anything. You didn’t make an argument, you just said “I’m an atheist.” Okay, accurate but pointless. The second kind of video I saw was people making juvenile insults (“I think religion is fucking stupid”). Well good for you, you really struck a blow for rationality. Now you can high five your friends and think you actually did something.

    I just don’t think this kind of thing means much of anything. If someone were to make an actual argument, I would find it interesting. As it is, it’s just pointless, self-congratulatory nonsense. But far worse is this idiotic notion that me not finding this to be some profound display of bravery means I want Christians to “walk all over” atheists. Get a fucking grip. And a clue.

  102. #102 Raging Bee
    February 8, 2007

    Heddle: I agree with you, except on one crucial point: the “culture war” against atheists may be “itty-bitty,” but the overall “culture war” — waged by the forces of reacionary unreason against EVERYONE not exactly like themselves — is very large indeed, and very dangerous, not just to atheists, but to everyone who values the basic freedoms that we take for granted in the US, including conservative Christians like you who insist on thinking for themselves.

    And while you may not feel threatened by a gaggle of atheist ninehammers, there are some very aggressive and unscrupulous religious activists who do — and the fact that their fears are groundless does not make them any less dangerous. As the Clash once said:

    There’s a one-way street in a one-horse town
    One-way people starting to brag around
    You can laugh, and put ‘em down
    These one-way people gonna mow us down

  103. #103 Loren Michael
    February 8, 2007

    Chris’ Wills wrote:

    So are you claiming that only atheists are sane?

    I have no objection to people spouting whatever they like, free speech is an absolute good, in my opinion.

    However, the problems associated with fundamentalist (Stalinist as opposed to Chamberlain) atheists is their use of the same tactics as the IDiots and creationists. Making a loud noise and insulting (claiming that they are irrational, deluded etc) others and claiming the mantle of science as belonging only to you makes enemies not friends.>>>

    You’re working with a very odd definition of Stalinism, not to mention fundamentalism. Stalinism is largely defined by its cult of personality, much like Maoism. North Korea is a largely Stalinist state. The people on YouTube do not fit this mold in the slightest.

    Fundamentalists are defined by what they believe, not how they act. A fundamentalist believes certain tenants of their religion to be true that the moderates do not. They can be very personable and outwardly uncritical of other religions. They can be shy and withdrawn. They can also be vile and blatantly hypocritical and violent. But it’s the belief component that is the defining factor, not their attitude.

    I’m not saying atheists are all sane, but atheism is certainly a component of sanity. Skepticism, rejection of dogma and beliefs founded on poor or nonexistent evidence are all key to not filtering reality through a tissue of fantasy.

    Certainly, some people are impolitical and loud. I would likely often fit that description. But history is rife with people who have been impolitical and loud, trying to overturn the insanity of the times. Affirmation that there is a group that rejects the paradigm is key to overturning that paradigm.

  104. #104 Will E.
    February 8, 2007

    I would like to see some de-conversion stories You Tubed, you know, when & why folks decided religion–any religion–was an insufficient way of looking at life, the universe, and everything. Rather than angrily attacking believers, it would just be honest and open, relaying the simple fact that religion does not help our understanding of anything and indeed hinders it.

    Raging Bee, nice Clash lyric–and from Sandinista! no less!

  105. #105 Ed Brayton
    February 8, 2007

    Will-

    See, THAT I would find interesting. I might even contribute my own story of why I left Christianity, as I have in other places (Glenn Morton has posted my deconversion story on his webpage). But that’s actually saying something. That’s sharing some actual reasons with someone. I’d find that very interesting. My old friend Ed Babinski has published a book of such stories, Leaving the Fold.

  106. #106 Leni
    February 8, 2007

    Actually, I think Blake Stacy nailed it on the head way at the beginning of the comments… Like all human endeavors there will be a range in quality. Ergo some videos will be idiotic and some will be interesting. I imagine the better ones will be in the minority.

    Another commentor (I forget who) pointed out that blaspheming can be a profoundly liberating experience from people recently free of very superstitious churches where this kind of thing “will” buy you a one-way ticket to hell. I can definitely see how this could be cathartic, and although I would not choose a public forum to do it, I understand that I am not everyone else.

    And it certainly is not equivalent to the kind of smug nastiness bandied about by people who, for example, insist you will be tortured for all eternity for not thinking like them. This isn’t about making threats or glibly condemning people to misery, it’s about thumbing your nose at superstition in a relatively light-hearted, if obnoxious, way. And while there may be some smug superiority there, but the two are definitely not equal.

  107. #107 Loren Michael
    February 8, 2007

    I would also enjoy that kind of message, though I’m not certain why it would necessarily be less angry.

  108. #108 Raging Bee
    February 8, 2007

    Fundamentalists are defined by what they believe, not how they act.

    Wrong — the public increasingly use the word “fundamentalist” to mean certain patterns of behavior as well as thought, which have been observed coming from all factions and ideologies, among which are: rigid, simple, “inerrant” interpretation of their belief or ideology; flat rejection of any source of information or wisdom other than their own “holy text” (including observable reality); intolerance for differing views — especially from people within their own “fold;” refusal to admit that anyone else can have a good reason not to agree with them; and treatment of others as enemies to be destroyed, not people to be persuaded or worked with.

  109. #109 doctorgoo
    February 8, 2007

    FYI, the personal deconversion that Ed just referenced can be found here:
    http://home.entouch.net/dmd/person.htm

    It’s a good read, but I’d be curious to learn more about Ed’s non-YEC reasons for conversion to theism.

  110. #110 Ed Brayton
    February 8, 2007

    doctorgoo-

    Oh boy, that could take a while. Perhaps one day I’ll write a long and detailed post on my deconversion (the snippet on Glenn’s page is short and focused on creationism, obviously). Probably the biggest reason was that the more I studied comparative religion, the more the OT god seemed like a standard issue tribal war god to me. He commanded them to slaughter people, and if they won the war it was because God was pleased by them, when they lost it was because God was angry at them. Ironically, the other sides in those wars believed the same thing, they just changed the names of the gods. Archaeological finds like the Moabite Stone demonstrate this. The barbaric nature of the OT god was the single biggest thing that led to my deconversion. Numbers 31 was the specific chapter that did it.

  111. #111 Loren Michael
    February 8, 2007

    Raging Bee wrote: Wrong — the public increasingly use the word “fundamentalist” to mean certain patterns of behavior as well as thought, which have been observed coming from all factions and ideologies, among which are: rigid, simple, “inerrant” interpretation of their belief or ideology; flat rejection of any source of information or wisdom other than their own “holy text” (including observable reality); intolerance for differing views — especially from people within their own “fold;” refusal to admit that anyone else can have a good reason not to agree with them; and treatment of others as enemies to be destroyed, not people to be persuaded or worked with.>>>

    Certainly people can change the meanings of words over time, and for that matter, it’s politically powerful to obfuscate enemies into a vague “those (liberals/fundamentalists/Muslims/evolutionists)”. The dumbing down of language, particularly in this context, doesn’t serve to solve any problems.

    It’s a troubling trend and I would suggest that this newfound obsession with tone is not only hypocritical, but an attempt to stifle criticism through arbitrary criteria.

    Rarely does anyone like a loudmouth, but the problems that exist because of fundamentalists (actual fundamentalists), the reason people have a problem with them that separates them from, say other people who like to wear their mind on their sleeve, is because of their ignorant and oppressive views towards science, society, and politics.

    We love outspoken people who agree with our worldviews, and we denigrate the people who don’t. Broadening the definition of fundamentalism is one means of doing that.

  112. #112 Will E.
    February 8, 2007

    –Probably the biggest reason was that the more I studied comparative religion…–

    Yes, yes, yes. When I was a theist I never had a problem with evolution *at all* (I remember as a young teen misunderstanding the phrase “scientific creationism” to mean that God caused evolution). But one day in my Methodist church, around 13 or 14, I was reading through the bible and the thought popped into my head, that the ancient Greeks believed in their gods just as fervently as we believe in ours, so…

    So basically, I owe more to Joseph Campbell and Mircea Eliade than to Richard Dawkins and Carl Sagan, whose writings I came to much later. While knowledge of science can rid one of fundamentalist views, knowledge of comparative religion can wash away any trace of theism whatsoever.

  113. #113 Raging Bee
    February 8, 2007

    …the problems that exist because of fundamentalists (actual fundamentalists), the reason people have a problem with them that separates them from, say other people who like to wear their mind on their sleeve, is because of their ignorant and oppressive views towards science, society, and politics.

    Yes, and it has been observed that nearly all beliefs and ideologies (political, social, religious, moral) have their share of people with “ignorant and oppressive views towards science, society, and politics.” The specific views may — or may not — be different, but the basic thought-patterns, pathologies, and practical dangers are pretty much the same; thus the same word ends up getting used to describe them: Christian fundamentalists, Muslim fundamentalists, atheist fundamentalists, Marxist fundamentalists, and I see no reason to doubt there’s Hindu fundamentalists, Shinto fundamentalists, etc. etc.

  114. #114 Loren Michael
    February 8, 2007

    …and so we get to the problem- how are the people in the blasphemy challenge holding ignorant or oppressive views towards science, society, and politics? How are they, or anyone else who actively doubts religion and its institutions, intrinsically holding ignorant or oppressive views towards science, society, and politics?

    Are active doubters of astrology fundamentalists? Are the people who go after and decry people like Sylvia Brown fundamentalists?

  115. #115 brtkrbzhnv
    February 8, 2007

    David Heddle:

    Most of us are not concerned about you getting elected to office

    And a whopping 49 % of Americans answered yes to the question “If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be [an atheist] would you vote for that person?” That was in 1999, so things might have changed a bit, but it still seems rather reasonable to assume that most of you are more or less concerned.

    As for whether the Blasphemy Challenge is “pointless, juvenile and stupid”, I’d say it’s not, partly because it’s a good opportunity for closet atheist to come out, and some feel a need to proclaim their deconversion to the world, and partly because it’s a good way for atheists to show everyone that they’re out there, and that they’re normal people. Like a Gay Pride parade, it might be juvenile, but it’s neither pointless nor stupid, as it reveals an uncomfortable truth to those who would have rather remained ignorant. Also, I find it rather interesting to listen to all those deconversion stories. (The RaĆ«lian responses are also quite interesting.)

  116. #116 Dave L
    February 8, 2007

    Claiming that anyone who believes in god is stupid or deluded is not justified.

    When I hear that a Christian feels God’s love or that they have a personal relationship with him, well I think about that specific thing they probably *are* delusional and I think it’s fair to say that, just as it’s likely that the same Christian would think someone from any other religion was delusional some of their spiritual experiences. I assume the objection is not that ‘delusional’ is too rude or mean a word, but that it’s not fair to call the person delusional.

    Ed, I think you’ve mentioned how you used to be, well, more “aggressive” in arguing with Christians, confronting them on internet boards and making them back up their positions and such. Then I think you met some Christians who were obviously very intelligent and that changed your attitude and maybe your position somewhat on Christianity. Did this change your mind about the validity of the arguments you had been making in your previous battles? Did you decide that since there were obviously intelligent people who you respected and who also were religious that it wasn’t ‘polite’ to be as aggressive? Or did these people present you with arguments that were more difficult to address? Just curious as to why you changed your tack on this.

    A deconversion story would definitely be interesting, including how you arrived at deism.

  117. #117 twincats
    February 8, 2007

    Leni said:

    Another commentor (I forget who) pointed out that blaspheming can be a profoundly liberating experience from people recently free of very superstitious churches where this kind of thing “will” buy you a one-way ticket to hell. I can definitely see how this could be cathartic, and although I would not choose a public forum to do it, I understand that I am not everyone else.

    I think that was me.

    Will E. & Ed: There are hundreds of de-conversion stories at http://exchristian.net/testimonies/ mine included, if you’re interested.

  118. #118 doctorgoo
    February 8, 2007

    Nice link twincats… it looks like it’s worth exploring awhile…

  119. #119 Ed Brayton
    February 8, 2007

    Dave L wrote:

    When I hear that a Christian feels God’s love or that they have a personal relationship with him, well I think about that specific thing they probably *are* delusional and I think it’s fair to say that, just as it’s likely that the same Christian would think someone from any other religion was delusional some of their spiritual experiences. I assume the objection is not that ‘delusional’ is too rude or mean a word, but that it’s not fair to call the person delusional.

    Remember what I said – “claiming that anyone who believes in God is delusional is not justified.” Surely there are religious people who are delusional; I’ve accused more than a few of them of being so myself. It’s the notion that belief in God itself makes them delusional that I object to. The same thing is true of calling them stupid. There are indeed a great many stupid people who are religious, and again, I point out the stupidity of such people at least once a day on this blog as a matter of course. But belief in God itself is not evidence of stupidity.

    Ed, I think you’ve mentioned how you used to be, well, more “aggressive” in arguing with Christians, confronting them on internet boards and making them back up their positions and such.

    No, see, this is precisely the wrong way to put it. I do not have a problem confronting anyone on their beliefs and making them back up their positions, regardless of the issue. I have no problem with “aggressive” substantive arguments; how could I? I’m hardly passive in hammering stupidity on this blog. If someone makes a stupid argument I’ve got no problem saying that’s a stupid argument; I do so several times a day.

    What I have a problem with this is this attitude shown by so many hardcore atheists that people who believe in god are just stupid, deluded creatures who are so clearly inferior to them. I have the same problem with a lot of Christians who think that atheists are automatically morally inferior to them, or that non-believers just refuse to believe in God because they’re trying to escape responsibility for their actions, and so forth. Those are absurd, arrogant and unjustified arguments that exist only as a handy means of dismissing those one disagrees with rather than having to engage their arguments. It’s that attitude that I object to, not to taking a strong position and defending it, or to making someone else defend theirs. And it positively baffles me that so many people who have read my writings for years and ought to have some insight into how I think just don’t get that distinction and think that I just want atheists to stop standing up for themselves, or that I think they should stop challenging Christians so as not to offend them; I couldn’t possibly care any less about who is offended; I offend people every day. I only care what is reasonable and justified.

    Then I think you met some Christians who were obviously very intelligent and that changed your attitude and maybe your position somewhat on Christianity. Did this change your mind about the validity of the arguments you had been making in your previous battles? Did you decide that since there were obviously intelligent people who you respected and who also were religious that it wasn’t ‘polite’ to be as aggressive? Or did these people present you with arguments that were more difficult to address? Just curious as to why you changed your tack on this.

    As I said, it has more to do with attitude than specific arguments. “You’re all stupid” is not an argument anyway. What changed was my attitude far more than my conclusions (and it may well be true that my attitude didn’t change enough). It’s just like our other stereotypes. If you think that all gays or all blacks are a certain way, and you keep running into those who just don’t fit the stereotype, you have to rethink your prejudices. Yeah, there are a whole lot of Gribbits and Falwells in the world; they deserve to be hammered and I’m the first in line to hammer them. But not all Christians deserve that. Not all Christians act like them. And we all have a tendency, me included, to paint with too broad a brush when we get involved in a battle over something we feel strongly about. I’m not immune to it either, but it’s a tendency I try and fight, with varying degrees of success.

    The real irony, I think, is how similar the reaction is from those I criticize in this regard on both sides. Just as the fundamentalist Christians interpret any criticism of young earth creationism or their absurd myths about the founding fathers as hostility to religion, I’ve gotten the same reaction from some of the hardcore atheists I’ve criticized. They interpret any criticism of their tactics or their overly broad attacks as hostility toward atheism itself. How else to explain PZ’s stunningly idiotic claim that I “loathe atheists and want to see them silenced”? That claim is every bit as moronic as if someone claimed that PZ hates science and wants to see it banished. No one in their right mind could possibly make such a claim with a straight face. How someone as obviously intelligent as he is can say something that breathtakingly stupid is beyond my ability to comprehend. And how he doesn’t realize that he is behaving just like those he criticizes is as well.

  120. #120 DuWayne
    February 8, 2007

    Loren -

    Are active doubters of astrology fundamentalists? Are the people who go after and decry people like Sylvia Brown fundamentalists?

    Not at all, nor are people who criticize religion. I consider it fundamentalism when atheists use the exact same tactics as religious fundamentalists. Condescension, ad hominom attacks and vast generalisations are the hallmark of fundies – whether they be religionists, deists or atheists.

    GH -

    I find it far more repulsive in atheists, because I have never met a stupid atheist. That is not to say that religionists are stupid, just that most stupid people are religionists. Intelligent, thoughtfull people should bloody well know better.

    To take a different perspective. Every person of faith, that I have ever met, who uses tactics similar to these, are flaming morons. People who would buy into Hovind’s bullshit, without batting an eye, people who could be convinced the world is flat. This is not an attractive group to be compared to. Why would any intelligent, rational person, want to act like them?

  121. #121 Loren Michael
    February 8, 2007

    But now we’re back to lingering on tone. Condescension can’t be the mark of a fundamentalist, though certainly it’s a common trait- I’ve met far too many humble, pleasant people who feel that stem cell research, abortion, and gay marriage are just as morally repugnant as female circumcision and honor killings. Certainly, their views smack of fallacious moral absolutism, but they’re perfectly capable of being cordial and nonpatronizing in expressing themselves.

    Ad hominem attacks- these are rarely made, honestly. An ad hominem is a means to discount an argument by attacking the person. That is, “your argument is wrong because you are (stupid/liberal/conservative/a scientist)”. Certainly, insults have been made, but they’re rarely the crux of an argument, and they don’t need to be. Ad hominem attacks are made by people who are unable to construct an effective argument, and I have yet to see a “blasphemy challenger”, or Sam Harris, or Richard Dawkins make an argument that boils down to “you are wrong because you are (x)“. I have also seen my fair share of fundamentalists avoid using these as well. They have a plethora of other fallacies that come far more readily than this one.

    Vast generalizations, well, I’ve seen a fair share made by far too many people who I would hesitate to call a fundamentalist to include it as one of the defining factors. For that matter, I’ve seen far too many fundamentalists not resort to using such fallacies.

    I am left to conclude that “fundamentalist atheist” is a pejorative concocted to dismiss criticism with arbitrary criteria, for even with your definition, it can’t be honestly applied to any of the popular luminaries of the so-called “fundamentalist atheist” movement, nor can it be applied generally to the people participating in the blasphemy challenge. For that matter, it can’t be honestly applied completely to dyed-in-the-wool fundamentalists.

  122. #122 DuWayne
    February 9, 2007

    Loren -

    I don’t generaly deal with luminaries, rarely do I engage with people who are highly visible spokespeople. Having listened to many of them, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Atheist, Altie, Phsycic, Conspiracy nut, Racist, Nationalist etc, rarely do any of them engage in any of those things. But when you are dealing with the average schmoe, you often find just those traits.

    It occurs to me, that it really boils down to something much simpler. The fundamentalist, carries an inherent distrust of and distaste for those who believe too differently than themselves. Too, these are traits that often are visible, even in luminaries, as it were. My point is that fundamentalists, often don’t concern themselves with masking those feelings.

    I have no idea where you get the notion that I am against the criticism of religion. When religious people do bad things, in the name of religion, I am right there to criticize and I do not use my own faith to do it.

    What I criticize, are people who would hold everything I have to say, as suspect, because I am a theist. Not because they dissagree with me on the issue being discussed, but because I am a theist. I have been accused of being stupid, ignorant, deluded and insane. This from people with whom, I am in wholehearted agreement on most political or social issues. While I tend not to think I am any of those things (the insane is debatable to a degree), that’s not the point. The problem is that the conclusion was reached based not on any action or attitude on my part, it is based soley on my religious beliefs. That’s fundamentalism.

  123. #123 DuWayne
    February 9, 2007

    Ed -

    What changed was my attitude far more than my conclusions (and it may well be true that my attitude didn’t change enough).

    I geuss I can’t really speak for enough, but there is a world of difference. I remember clearly, alternating between being terrified you were going to burn in hell, and wishing you would, sooner than later. Many of the things you had to say, were rather hard on a deeply religious eight or nine year old – many (at least seemed) downright cruel.

    To be honest, I have been amazed with what you have written on this subject. I realized that you had toned down, but as we seem adept as a family at avoiding the discussion of religion, it wasn’t until I started reading your blog that I realized how much you had changed.

  124. #124 Dave L
    February 9, 2007

    And we all have a tendency … to paint with too broad a brush

    I think that is the crux of the issue with this topic, and it also applies to implying things about religion that people didn’t actually say. As much as I disagree with Heddle’s theology, for example, and think that it is based on a mammoth unsupported assumption, that God exists, I do think he’s very careful about what points he actually makes, even though he gets hammered over things he did not say and that were, logically or illogically, inferred.

    In the latest PZ skirmish, I thought this was definitely on display. The charge of ‘appeaser’ that was leveled was idiotic, and obviously wrong to anyone who reads the posts here, but I can’t help but think that some felt in that last battle that you were defending Christianity when you were not. I can’t argue with the points PZ makes regarding the lack of evidence for any religion though, and I don’t know offhand if you’ve ever disagreed with him on that (I know, it’s back to the fairly pointless theism-atheism debate so why bother).

    I do like some of PZ’s writing, but I find it odd that as much as he bashes GW Bush, his attitude on this topic is pure W: you’re either with us or you’re against us.

  125. #125 Puskara
    February 9, 2007

    I was going to reply to Raging Bee’s comments but in light of his own posts it seems unnecessary.

    By the way I am sorry for the poor spelling in my post I will have to be more careful. That sort of thing distracts me so I try to not do it to others.

    I think there is a very bad confusion over why the blasphemy challenge is here. They are asking people to deny the holy spirit. That is it. They are not saying that people should call Christians stupid or anything else. Now people may choose to do that on their own but that is not part of the challenge.

    Now some might say that by denying the holy spirit they are implying that Christians are wrong when it comes to their religion and the realities of the universe. That would be totally correct. However that is also what is implied when someone says “I am an Atheist.” Just as the same idea is implied by religionists when they profess their belief in a religious idea or doctrine.” It is unavoidable that they imply that mutually exclusive doctrines are wrong.

    So all these criticisms that Atheists should not be encouraging people to call Christians names or say they are stupid, etc are baseless because that is NOT what the blasphemy challenge is.

    Also note that my indication that some commenter’s on this board seem cowed by social pressures does not include Ed Brayton. It was a response to the other comments on the entry.

    On the point that the majority of religionists do not care about Atheists. That is irrelevant. The Atheist and Secular Humanist are the favored bogeyman of the charismatic Evangelicals and other factions of the religious right. That groups includes over 30 million Americans and they are on the whole much more politically active and likely to vote than the average nominal Christian.

    Thus it is good that the majority of religionists do not care from a nominal societal perspective. But those nominal Christians are not voting as much as the radical right ones and since they do not care they are not helping us fight against the radical right attempts to push the US towards a more theocratic form of government.

    In fact my personal experience has been that the nominal Christian is easily convinced to support measures that hurt Atheists and religious minorities by their more extreme and politically active brothers and sisters in the faith. Mainly upon the basis that since they are both Christians they must be trustworthy and have good intentions or simply because they are ignorant of the fact that millions of people oppose such ideas.

    Puskara

  126. #126 Raging Bee
    February 9, 2007

    I’m with Ed on one thing: instead of “challenging” people to say what they’re told to say (which is what this “blasphemy challenge” amounts to), why not challenge them to say what’s in their own hearts? A compilation of videos of people explaining, in their own words, why they’re atheists, or why they reject the religion their parents tried to drum into them, would certainly be more sensible, more informative, and far more beneficial to other would-be atheists than this stupid game of “I double-dog-dare ya!” I suspect that it would do a lot more to “raise consciousness” and “throw the other guys off balance” than a bunch of juvenile nonsense that can’t even get a point of Christian doctrine right.

  127. #127 Will
    February 9, 2007

    Yeah, these damn uppity atheists need to keep their mouths shut!

  128. #128 Raging Bee
    February 9, 2007

    The Atheist and Secular Humanist are the favored bogeyman of the charismatic Evangelicals and other factions of the religious right.

    More “favored” than gays, lesbians, feminists, Pagans, liberal Christians, hippies, pot-smokers, psychiatrists, and women who don’t hate their bodies? I don’t think so. Hell, atheists barely even got honorable mention in Pat Robertson’s “9/11 is God’s punishment of a sinful America” speech. Nor do I remember hearing “al Qaeda Pat” saying this or that hurricane was aimed at atheists.

  129. #129 Raging Bee
    February 9, 2007

    Just as the fundamentalist Christians interpret any criticism of young earth creationism or their absurd myths about the founding fathers as hostility to religion, I’ve gotten the same reaction from some of the hardcore atheists I’ve criticized. They interpret any criticism of their tactics or their overly broad attacks as hostility toward atheism itself.

    This is why the word “fundamentalist” is applicable across the entire range of beliefs and ideologies: similar mindsets, and similar behaviors, have been observed in every camp at one time or another, and the potential threat of such behaviors is the same regardless of the specific beliefs. And — most importantly — all fundamentalists have the same enemy: moderates who think for themselves and don’t let themselves be boxed into the constraints of any one ideology.

  130. #130 doctorgoo
    February 9, 2007

    Yeah, these damn uppity atheists need to keep their mouths shut!

    Will, how did you ever get the idea that Ed (or anyone else on this thread) was trying to make this point??

    Do you have PayPal? If so, I’ll donate the quarter it takes for you to go buy yourself a clue.

  131. #131 DuWayne
    February 9, 2007

    Will E -

    The Power of Myth series, where Bill Moyers, interviews Campbell, was a life changing expierience for me. Though it didn’t lead me to leave my religion at the time, it did vastly alter my view of other religions. Ironicly, I discovered that after I had seen Carl Sagan speak twice. I was eight the first time I saw him, eleven the second time. Rather than driving me away from my faith, his absolute joy at exploring the world around him, infected me to find more joy in everything – including my religious expression.

  132. #132 Will
    February 9, 2007

    Jesus, doctorgoo, I was just being facetious.

    And fuck you.

  133. #133 doctorgoo
    February 9, 2007

    Dude! I don’t know you at all man, and unless you’re the same person posting as “Will E” (which I doubt, but not entirely sure), then I have no other posts to go on to determine if you were serious or not.

    So how is one supposed to know you were being facetious? A simple emoticon would have done fine…

    Cheers up guy… there’s no need to get worked up over this. If it makes a difference, I sincerely apologize.

  134. #134 Will E.
    February 9, 2007

    DuWayne –
    I would definitely say that the sheer joy and excitement Campbell and Sagan had for their respective fields is a real source of inspiration for anyone. Would that we had more people like that in any field, believer or no. I would love to see an atheist today in the media with that kind of passion and knowledge. Dawkins comes close sometimes, but I swear, I think it’s the fact that he’s British that puts some folks off–you know, what with his fancy accent and all.

    doctorgoo –
    To clarify, I am not “Will” but “Will E.”

  135. #135 doctorgoo
    February 9, 2007

    That’s what I thought Will E.

    One of the reasons why I chose the psuedonym “doctorgoo” is because it’s so unusual, so that nobody would ever accidentally confuse me with someone else. Why “doctorgoo” in particular? Because 10 years when I first started bbs trolling, I was a fan of Val Kilmer’s portrayal of Doc Holiday in the movie Tombstone, and because I was a fan of the Goo Goo Dolls.

    BTW… I still think Tombstone is an awesome movie. But for the life of me, I can’t remember why I ever like that band.

  136. #136 Will
    February 9, 2007

    No, I’m the one who should apologize. I just didn’t think anyone would take what I wrote as some kind of serious argument. *shrugs* Maybe we should both buy a clue for each other?

  137. #137 doctorgoo@hotmail.com
    February 9, 2007

    That’s okay Will… I just you might have been a gung-ho fan of one of Ed’s SciBlings who sometimes think that way.

    (I don’t wanna start an argument here, so I’ll only mention him in piglatin: Eepay-Eezay).

    lol

  138. #138 doctorgoo
    February 9, 2007

    Well Heck! I didn’t mean to post my email just now!

    (please ignore!)

  139. #139 Ed Brayton
    February 9, 2007

    Raging Bee wrote:

    I’m with Ed on one thing: instead of “challenging” people to say what they’re told to say (which is what this “blasphemy challenge” amounts to), why not challenge them to say what’s in their own hearts? A compilation of videos of people explaining, in their own words, why they’re atheists, or why they reject the religion their parents tried to drum into them, would certainly be more sensible, more informative, and far more beneficial to other would-be atheists than this stupid game of “I double-dog-dare ya!”

    Exactly my point, thank you (though I couldn’t care less who’s right about the interpretation of the “don’t blaspheme the holy spirit” verse). As I said, I would find a bunch of videos, or better yet essays, on why people left Christianity or what they find unconvincing about it very interesting. That would be an argument. That would be communicating ideas. That would actually be something worth thinking about.

  140. #140 Raging Bee
    February 9, 2007

    And it would be a better form of catharsis too — participants would come away knowing they had got their own thoughts out to the public.

  141. #141 Jason
    February 9, 2007

    DuWayne,

    I have no idea where you get the notion that I am against the criticism of religion. When religious people do bad things, in the name of religion, I am right there to criticize and I do not use my own faith to do it.

    Well, you just demonstrated where that notion comes from, with yet another repetition of your weasel words that people do bad things merely “in the name of” religion rather than because of religion. You’re pretending that religion is just an excuse, a pretext, used by people who do bad things for some other reason, rather than a cause of bad things in itself. Given the overwhelming evidence that religion causes people to do bad things, the wilfull blindness of this claim is breathtaking.

    Of course, you’re not alone. This “do bad things in the name of religion” is a standard piece of disingenuous rhetoric among apologists for religion.

  142. #142 Jason
    February 9, 2007

    In the US, atheists are supposedly one of the most distrusted groups around. I think Ed is right: This is not the way to kill that notion.

    I think one reason atheists (and the non-religious more generally) are distrusted in the U.S. is that they are largely invisible. Religious adherents are constantly jabbering about their beliefs in public, but the irreligious are mostly silent. It’s another kind of closet. The most important thing most atheists and non-believers can do for the social standing of those groups in America is simply come out of the closet and be out and proud about their disbelief. The Blasphemy Challenge is a very effective way of doing that. It’s a powerful and attention-grabbing way of telling the dominant religious group in America (Christians) that you think their religious beliefs are nonsense. They need to be hear that more often, much more often.

  143. #143 David Heddle
    February 9, 2007

    Jason,

    It’s a powerful and attention-grabbing way of telling the dominant religious group in America (Christians) that you think their religious beliefs are nonsense. They need to be hear that more often, much more often.

    I think you must be right, I mean, your post is the first time in recent memory that I have heard or read that someone thinks my religious beliefs are nonsense. That message is not getting out there at all.

  144. #144 Raging Bee
    February 9, 2007

    …yet another repetition of your weasel words that people do bad things merely “in the name of” religion rather than because of religion.

    They’re not “weasel words,” they’re documented fact. History is full of acts committed for clearly non-religious purposes (greed, fear, hate, etc.) and justified through some snippet of religious doctrine. Some blatant examples include the liquidation of “heathen” societies in the New World and the Burning Times pogroms.

    Given the overwhelming evidence that religion causes people to do bad things…

    And that “overwhelming evidence” is…?

    And if religion causes people to do bad things, can it not also cause people to do good things? Certainly good things have been done in the name of religion, but as you said, those are just “weasel words,” right?

  145. #145 DuWayne
    February 9, 2007

    Will E. -

    I have to disagree to an extent.

    I really miss Sagan and think he had a singular talent for making celestial mechanics so accessable. He was clear to me, when I was eleven. He was also gracious and engaged when I had a couple questions for the q&a.

    I also really miss the earlier work of Bill Moyers. He has a singular talent for bringing the experts of most any field, to explain their field in terms that rival the clarity of Sagan.

    But there are, if anything, far more populizers of science – many quite capable and clear. Even better, they are accessable. It is my favorite aspect of the blogosphere.

    I also think that Dawkins is an amazing populizer of science. The same is true of Daniel Dennet and philosophy. What stands against them is not their abilities to impart the joy they have for their respective fields, it is that they are both quite contraversial. While I see this as something of a negative (especialy with Dawkins), I think that Carl Sagan would have ended up in the same boat. As much as I enjoyed A Candle in the Dark, it was a pretty damning critique of religion of any stripe.

    I think the major advantage that Sagan had over Dawkins is that astronomy is just sexier than evolutionary biology – it certainly comes with prettier pictures. This is not to say that evoltion isn’t quite an exciting study – but it is not as easy a subject to get people enthusiastic about, as astronomy is.

    I actually think that Dennet is far more interesting that Joseph Campbell was. Were it not for the interviews with Bill Moyers, I would never have gotten interested in Joseph Campbell. His writing was so very dry, I just don’t enjoy it much. And while he was somewhat more interesting when speaking – especialy answering questions, I would likely not have enjoyed him as much as I did when I was twelve, had I found other video of him first. Whereas, I am pretty certain that Dennet would have been far more compelling. Had I been able to read some of his work back then, I am pretty certain I would have devoured it. I would have had strenuous dissagrement with his conclusions – I do now to a certain extent, but I think I would have enjoyed the thought processes that would have gone into assimilating his work.

  146. #146 DuWayne
    February 9, 2007

    Jason -

    Babble at me as you will, I have no further interest in engaging you. You have repeatedly mischareterised me, obviously you are going to continue to do so. I have no interest in playing your ridiculous games. I do not beleive what you think I do. I do not think the way you think I do. You willfully ignore everything that I say that contradicts your perception of what I must think and believe.

  147. #147 mgr
    February 9, 2007

    Ed–that’s just the ticket, I should just rationally explain why I am an atheist, but I should tolerate things such as a minister’s wife suggesting that the childern on our little league team pray before each game, because it would be so-o-o cute. I demurred (my son is agnostic). Next year, my son is the only one our of thirteen kids not on the team–something about him being the youngest, but not, never related to that all the other kids came from the same church.

    It might never occur to you, Ed, that the blasphemy challenge may reflect the attitude that many atheists are fed up with this crap, and really do not need the patronizing that comes from the saved or from those whose agendas depend on not getting the religious upset. By the way, when did lampooning religious belief by demonstrating that engaging in the one thing that does not merit salvation by belief in Christ, and having nothing happen to you, is not a challenge to the believer’s rationality?

    Mike

  148. #148 Ed Brayton
    February 9, 2007

    mgr wrote:

    Ed–that’s just the ticket, I should just rationally explain why I am an atheist, but I should tolerate things such as a minister’s wife suggesting that the childern on our little league team pray before each game, because it would be so-o-o cute. I demurred (my son is agnostic). Next year, my son is the only one our of thirteen kids not on the team–something about him being the youngest, but not, never related to that all the other kids came from the same church.

    A completely illogical argument, as if the bad behavior of someone else frees you from any need to be rational. A classic tu quoque, and completely irrelevant.

    It might never occur to you, Ed, that the blasphemy challenge may reflect the attitude that many atheists are fed up with this crap, and really do not need the patronizing that comes from the saved or from those whose agendas depend on not getting the religious upset.

    I love this idiotic notion that I’m concerned about “getting the religious upset.” Of course, that must be it. That explains why I write post after post that upset many religious people. I couldn’t possibly care any less who gets upset about criticizing religion, but that doesn’t mean that every criticism of religion is justified or rational or worth making. But you’ve hit the problem precisely on the head: the blasphemy challenge represents an attitude rather than a coherent argument. I’m all for coherent arguments, nor for “Christians have pissed me off so it doesn’t matter how juvenile my response is” attitudes.

  149. #149 mgr
    February 9, 2007

    Jason–there really are no ethical or moral grounds to criticize religious practices. An excellent counter example to your universal is Martin Luther King Jr.

    The weakness in Christian thought is metaphysical and meta ethical. The doctrine of original sin is a meta-ethical concept that is entirely dependant on the metaphysics underlying the concept of Jehovah. What a lot of Christians forget, is that if you don’t believe in Jehovah, you don’t accept original sin. If you don’t accept original sin then you don’t have to accept the assumption that man is inherently evil.

    I noticed some strange exercising of heuristics in the previous comments–how is it that Christians can re interpret the word of Christ, as it comes to blasphemeing the holy spirit (in the book of Mark), but cannot repudiate Romans as to homosexuality(written by Paul)? The reason I ask, is that blasphemeing the holy spirit was the only non-redemptive sin in the church I was a part of (liberal–Congregational), and to my Wheaton educated step father.

    Mike

  150. #150 Jeff Hebert
    February 9, 2007

    Ed, I hope you don’t mind, but I found your proposal for such “de-conversion” stories so compelling (particularly given the “Calvin & Hobbes” comic I picked out for today’s “Hobbesian Friday” edition) that I’ve issued an invitation on my blog, Nerd Country, for people to send in their stories of why they no longer believe now what they used to believe.

    What interests me (as I say in the post) is not so much why you converted TO your new religion, but rather how and why you DE-converted from your prior one. There are already tons of stories about why people currently are the religion they are, but I find the process of deciding your prior fervently held beliefs were wrong to be fascinating.

    And note, this applies just as much to Catholics who convert to Seventh Day Adventism, or Muslims to Mormons, or Christians to atheists, or atheists to Shintoism. I’m not terribly interested in a “Why Christianity Sucks” discussion, that’s boring — I’d like to know how people come to be able to change their beliefs.

  151. #151 DuWayne
    February 9, 2007

    Mike -

    I noticed some strange exercising of heuristics in the previous comments–how is it that Christians can re interpret the word of Christ, as it comes to blasphemeing the holy spirit (in the book of Mark), but cannot repudiate Romans as to homosexuality(written by Paul)? The reason I ask, is that blasphemeing the holy spirit was the only non-redemptive sin in the church I was a part of (liberal–Congregational), and to my Wheaton educated step father.

    It’s not that anyone is saying that it would not be a non-redemptive sin, according to the bible. The point is that to blaspheme the Holy Spirit, is nigh on impossible. It requires the certain belief in the Holy Spirit and the claim that the “work” of the Holy Spirit is the “work” of someone or something else.

  152. #152 Don
    February 9, 2007

    Jason

    Well, you just demonstrated where that notion comes from, with yet another repetition of your weasel words that people do bad things merely “in the name of” religion rather than because of religion. You’re pretending that religion is just an excuse, a pretext, used by people who do bad things for some other reason, rather than a cause of bad things in itself. Given the overwhelming evidence that religion causes people to do bad things, the wilfull blindness of this claim is breathtaking.

    Of course, you’re not alone. This “do bad things in the name of religion” is a standard piece of disingenuous rhetoric among apologists for religion.

    I am no apologist, in fact I am an atheist and I believe people do use religion as pretext for doing bad things. If they didn’t have religion they would find some other justification. This is not to say that religion never causes people to do bad things just that most people will use whatever justification they can find when they want to do something normally considered immoral. Most religions are ambigouous in their interprtation allowing immoral actions to hide in the ambiguity.

    If you have sources for this “overwhelming evidence” for religion causing people to do bad things, then I would like to see it. The best I have ever seen is a correlation between a lack of religion and certain societal health indicators. Correlation does not prove causation however, and furthermore some people dispute this data.

    I do agree with your next post where you say the Blasphemy challenge is powerful and attention getting and I do think it is having an effect. It might have been more effective
    if The Rational Response Squad had insisted on a higher level of discourse. The “you Christian are stupid” videos detract from the effectiveness.

    I also agree with Ed and Raging Bee that videos explaning how people got to where they are would be vastly more interesting. I don’t think it would have the same effect though. You probably wouldn’t have nearly the same participation either as most these people are making the videos just to poke their fingers in the eyes of the Christians.

  153. #153 Colugo
    February 9, 2007

    While there is a place in atheist literature for naming specific religions (‘Why I am Not a Christian’ by Bertrand Russell, ‘Why I am Not a Muslim’ by Ibn Warraq), the Blasphemy Challenge is an example of what is turning into an obsession in some quarters – namely, sticking it to the so-called “Jeebus freaks,” “fundies,” and “Christopaths.”

    Rest assured, these puerile displays will do little damage to Christianity. What makes them problematic is that they may deform atheism’s identity into something that is fundamentally adolescent and obsessed with bashing Christianity.

    But the silly Blasphemy Challenge is just a symptom of a larger poorly-considered strategy. When scientists who happen to be theists – and who are on our side on education and evolution – are dismissed as “stealth creationists,” something is out of whack.

  154. #154 Julia
    February 9, 2007

    Mike,

    Another comment on the same quote from you that DuWayne just commented on:

    According to many Christians’ interpretations of Bible passages, the Holy Spirit is that part of the Trinity that pulls people toward God. When I was a child, my father explained the passage from Mark to me by saying, “Suppose the next time we go swimming, you get out in deep water and can’t get back. People yell at you from the shore, but one person wades out and throws you a life preserver on a rope so he can pull you in. You can reject and yell insults at the people on the shore without doing yourself any harm, but if you reject the guy with the life preserver, you’d be in danger of drowning.” There’s no implication there that one insulting rejection would cause the guy to stop trying to get you to grab on, as long as you still lived.

    Yes, I can see how someone can interpret “blaspheme” in the sense of a single spoken insult, but as I could never see how that interpretation fit with other portions of the New Testament, I’ve always been satisfied with my father’s explanation.

    Also, it’s not accurate that “Christians . . . cannot repudiate Romans as to homosexuality (written by Paul).” Certainly they can, and many do. People aren’t perfect, and I expect that Paul did his best, given his culture and his evident distrust and dislike of sex in general, to deal with what very little he knew or understood of homosexual behavior, which he no doubt saw as an inexplicable choice.

    I’m a Christian, and I see the Bible as a fascinating and thought-provoking record of how a group of people struggled through many hundreds of years to develop their understanding of God. Their understanding may have been small and mean and selflish, but that doesn’t mean that God is any of those things. Jesus provided an answer to all those questions when he summarized by telling us that love is all the law. Two thousand years later, we’re still struggling to figure out how to apply love, but the ineffectiveness of our struggles doesn’t mean that the summary was wrong.

  155. #155 Will E.
    February 9, 2007

    –What makes them problematic is that they may deform atheism’s identity into something that is fundamentally adolescent and obsessed with bashing Christianity.–

    Yeah, and honestly, I feel that way about myself sometimes. Virtually all of my friends/acquaintances are atheists or non believers of whatever stripe, but I’m one of the few that (especially after a few drinks) really likes to talk about atheism & religion, and sometimes I fear they just think I’m obsessed w/ this stuff in an unhealthy way. That’s why I’m not into the Blasphemy Challenge, and want to see more people pick up on the positive virtues of atheism and express those, rather than always criticizing religion. I don’t think that’s being done on a large scale.

  156. #156 Jason
    February 9, 2007

    Don

    If they didn’t have religion they would find some other justification. This is not to say that religion never causes people to do bad things …

    On the contrary, that’s precisely what it means. Either religion causes someone to do a bad thing, or it is merely an excuse or pretext for that behavior. Since you admit that religion sometimes causes people to do bad things, you’re denying that it is merely a pretext, that people do bad things merely “in the name of” religion rather than because of religion.

    If you have sources for this “overwhelming evidence” for religion causing people to do bad things, then I would like to see it.

    The Christian Bible is one obvious example. The Old Testament is largely a catalog of atrocities ordered, condoned or perpetrated by God, and for 2,000 years Christians have explicitly justified all kinds of bad behavior, from torturing heretics to persecuting homosexuals, through appeals to the sacred writings of their faith, as well as other sources of moral authority in their religion such as the Catholic Pope.

  157. #157 Jason
    February 9, 2007

    mgr,

    Jason–there really are no ethical or moral grounds to criticize religious practices.

    Huh? There are no ethical or moral grounds to criticize, say, the persecution of Jews (a favorite Christian practise for 20 centuries), or the torture of heretics, or discrimination against gay people? You have got to be kidding.

    An excellent counter example to your universal is Martin Luther King Jr.

    What about Martin Luther King? How does MLK rebut the claim that religion causes people to do bad things, rather than serves merely as an excuse or pretext for bad things that are done for other reasons?

  158. #158 Jason
    February 9, 2007

    I do agree with your next post where you say the Blasphemy challenge is powerful and attention getting and I do think it is having an effect. It might have been more effective if The Rational Response Squad had insisted on a higher level of discourse. The “you Christian are stupid” videos detract from the effectiveness.

    I think both reasoned criticism and simple protest are appropriate responses to Christian nonsense, of which the “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is an unforgivable sin” doctrine is a prime example.

    I also agree with Ed and Raging Bee that videos explaning how people got to where they are would be vastly more interesting. I don’t think it would have the same effect though. You probably wouldn’t have nearly the same participation either as most these people are making the videos just to poke their fingers in the eyes of the Christians.

    Exactly. The primary value of the Blasphemy Challenge approach is that it gets people’s attention in a way that serious, reasoned critiques do not. It’s a form of mass public protest.

  159. #159 Jason
    February 9, 2007

    raging,

    They’re not “weasel words,” they’re documented fact. History is full of acts committed for clearly non-religious purposes (greed, fear, hate, etc.) and justified through some snippet of religious doctrine.

    History is full of atrocities committed for explicitly religious reasons, from torturing heretics to persecuting homosexuals.

    And if religion causes people to do bad things, can it not also cause people to do good things?

    Yes, sometimes it can. For some strange reason, religious apologists don’t seem hesitant to give religion credit for causing or motivating good behavior. The “in the name of” weasel words only get dragged out when the association is with bad acts. Apparently, religion deserves credit when people do good things “in the name of” religion, but doesn’t deserve blame when people do bad things “in the name of” religion. The double standard is obvious.

  160. #160 Jason
    February 9, 2007

    Julia,

    Jesus provided an answer to all those questions when he summarized by telling us that love is all the law.

    Actually, Jesus is quoted in the gospels as saying that the most important commandment of all is to love God. So, according to Jesus’s teachings, Atheists, Agnostics, Hindus, Buddhists, Deists, and all others who either believe in God but don’t love him, or don’t believe in him at all, are breaking the most important commandment. And the just fate of such wrongdoers, according to Jesus, is eternal punishment in hell, a state he described using imagery of fire and burning and terms like “torment” and “agony.”

    Yes, he sure had a great ethical message, that Jesus!

  161. #161 David Heddle
    February 9, 2007

    Jason,

    The problem is that you are all in a frenzy over nothing. Not many of us are upset that you that you criticize religious practices. Not many of us care about the Blasphemy challenge, beyond taking the time to explain that, too bad, they aren’t committing the unpardonable sin and can easily be forgiven.

    Criticize away! Do you think we haven’t heard that our beliefs are nonsense and that our practices are responsible for all manner of atrocities? Or that Jesus’ teachings on hell prove he is immoral? We have, a gazillion times. You (militant atheism) brings nothing new to the table. We are satisfied knowing that all thinking people, left and right theist and atheist understand that anything at all can be co-opted for evil purposes. Some insane leader hell-bent on committing genocide will find a way to justify it, be it religion, ideology, economics, race, tribe, whatever.

    It’s just funny how a subset of atheists view some sort of war brewing. There isn’t! Oh, there are always (and always have been) nuts on both sides that use that language and even a few outright lunatics that actually believe it, but again, that’s nothing new. Madalyn Murray O’Hair was around long before Dawkins, and there will be others to follow Dawkins and Harris. There have been “the God Delusion” clones for centuries, just as there have been a series “proofs” for God. Nothing new under the sun.

    The militant atheists remind me “Francis” in the old movie “Stripes.” They think people are out to get them, and they want to fight someone, but in truth nobody is out to get them, and nobody wants to fight someone they cannot even take seriously. It’s hard to fight when you’re trying not to laugh.

  162. #162 Jason
    February 9, 2007

    David Heddle,

    The problem is that you are all in a frenzy over nothing.

    I don’t think anyone here is in a “frenzy,” but if anyone could be characterized in that way, it’s those who are objecting to the Blasphemy Challenge.

    Not many of us are upset that you that you criticize religious practices. Not many of us care about the Blasphemy challenge,

    Ed Brayton went to the trouble of writing a post about it in which he called it “pointless, juvenile and stupid.” Many others have echoed that sentiment. It sure looks like they care about it.

    Criticize away! Do you think we haven’t heard that our beliefs are nonsense and that our practices are responsible for all manner of atrocities?

    I don’t think you’ve heard it nearly enough. The prevailing public discourse in the United States regarding religion is one of deference and accommodation rather than challenge and criticism. It’s quite a contrast to, say, western Europe, where there is a much richer tradition of confronting and challenging religion and where, unsurprisingly, religiosity has declined more quickly and more sharply than it has in the U.S. But criticism of religion is growing here as well, as more and more people are abandoning it, or never buying into it in the first place. I expect that trend to continue as the scope and reputation of science and reason expand further.

  163. #163 Don
    February 9, 2007

    On the contrary, that’s precisely what it means. Either religion causes someone to do a bad thing, or it is merely an excuse or pretext for that behavior.

    Maybe I am misunderstanding you. What I am trying to say is that all immoral actions that are nominally the result of religion will fall into one of two categories. The first category is “caused by” – meaning if religion didn’t exist the immoral action would not happen. The second category is “pretext” – meaning the immoral action would still happen if religion didn’t exist, just the actor would have a different rationalization. My argument is that you have both categories but more immoral actions would fall into the “pretext” category than the “caused by” category. I think a lot more.

    In any case, the above is a simplification, since I think there would be shades of grey also. Some immoral acts would be only somewhat less likely without religion, etc.

  164. #164 Jason
    February 9, 2007

    Don,

    My argument is that you have both categories but more immoral actions would fall into the “pretext” category than the “caused by” category. I think a lot more.

    Do you have any evidence to substantiate that claim? There is abundant evidence, both historical and contemporary, that religion is a huge cause of irrational and unethical behavior. The most primitive, backward, unethical societies in the world also tend to be among the most religious. The Islamic theocracies of the middle east are clear examples. The most progressive, enlightened, ethical societies in the world tend to be among the least religious. The nations of western Europe, and especially the Scandinavian nations, are clear examples. The relationship also holds within the U.S. The south is both the poorest, most backward part of the country and the most religious part.

  165. #165 David Heddle
    February 9, 2007

    Jason

    Ed Brayton went to the trouble of writing a post about it in which he called it “pointless, juvenile and stupid.” Many others have echoed that sentiment. It sure looks like they care about it.

    I’d put it differently: analogous to the efforts of the ID political movement, the blasphemy challenge backfired. In the end, it was helpful for Christianity, because there has always been great mystery and fear regarding the unpardonable sin. The fruitful discussion on the unpardonable sin that the blasphemy challenge initiated not only allayed believers’ concerns that a bunch of kids were condemning themselves to hell, it also erased their own fears that they might have accidentally or even purposefully committed the sin at some point in their lives.

    I don’t think you’ve heard it nearly enough. The prevailing public discourse in the United States regarding religion is one of deference and accommodation rather than challenge and criticism.

    I wouldn’t argue with that, but nevertheless we hear the criticism all the time–if you turn up the volume it won’t matter, because we have heard it all before, and, when we’re not chuckling at your antics (I mean, Sam Harris often has me in stitches) (or, in the case of the blasphemy challenge, benefiting from them) we’re tuning you out, not because we are rude but you can only hear the same talking points a finite number of times.

    I expect that trend to continue as the scope and reputation of science and reason expand further.

    Me too, as believing scientists like myself preach to our fellow believers that science and theology, one being the study of general revelation (creation) and the other of special revelation (the bible), are necessarily compatible, given that we don’t worship a God of confusion.

  166. #166 Pseudonym
    February 9, 2007

    raging:

    History is full of acts committed for clearly non-religious purposes (greed, fear, hate, etc.) and justified through some snippet of religious doctrine.

    and Jason:

    History is full of atrocities committed for explicitly religious reasons, from torturing heretics to persecuting homosexuals.

    First off, these are both assertions presented without evidence. But if you do look at history, it becomes pretty obvious pretty quickly that the distinction between the two isn’t so clear-cut.

    History, for example, is also full of atrocities committed for explicitly non-religious reasons. And, more to the point, it’s also full of groups of people who act with mixed motives.

    Take the European witch hunts, for example. At a high-level, it’s clearly religious in nature. But at the local level, it was often clearly used as an excuse for local people in authority to get rid of people they simply didn’t like, for whatever reason. When you take the phenomenon as a whole, it’s not completely “religious” and it’s not completely “non-religious”.

    It’s worth asking whether such a thing would happen for ostensibly non-religious reasons. Thankfully, that’s not something you can exactly “test”. But there have certainly been equivalents. The Holocaust wasn’t ostensibly “religious”, and nor was McCarthy or Abu Ghraib.

    I’m not going to minimise the culpability of organised religion in evils of the past. But it’s clearly wrong to say that if there were no religion, there would be fewer atrocities.

    Horrible things are happening in the US today in the name of “freedom”. It would be a fallacy to conclude that if there were no freedom, things would be better. (Thank you D’Souza.)

  167. #167 Jason
    February 9, 2007

    Pseudonym,

    First off, these are both assertions presented without evidence.

    You mean you really don’t know? Heretics were tortured by the Inquisition, a religious organization that was part of the Roman Catholic Church, for the religious purpose of saving their souls or the souls of others. Homosexuals have been persecuted for violating religious moral prohibitions on homosexual sex as described in, for example, the Christian Bible.

    But it’s clearly wrong to say that if there were no religion, there would be fewer atrocities.

    Do please present your evidence in support of this astoundingly implausible claim, and explain how the claim is consistent with the pattern of religiosity and societal development I described in my last post. If religion has no net adverse effect on the ethics and health of a society, why are, say, Sweden and the Netherlands so much more free, prosperous, and progressive than, say, Saudi Arabia and Iran?

  168. #168 Julia
    February 9, 2007

    Jason

    So, according to Jesus’s teachings, Atheists, Agnostics, Hindus, Buddhists, Deists, and all others who either believe in God but don’t love him, or don’t believe in him at all, are breaking the most important commandment. And the just fate of such wrongdoers, according to Jesus, is eternal punishment in hell, a state he described using imagery of fire and burning and terms like “torment” and “agony.”

    I think your comment is either that Jesus said those who don’t obey the greatest Jewish commandment will be punished by being sent to hell, or else that Jesus said those who don’t love God will be sent to hell. Or perhaps you’re saying both. At any rate, I didn’t realize he ever said either. But then my memory isn’t what it used to be. Source, please?

  169. #169 Jason
    February 9, 2007

    David Heddle,

    I’d put it differently: analogous to the efforts of the ID political movement, the blasphemy challenge backfired. In the end, it was helpful for Christianity, because there has always been great mystery and fear regarding the unpardonable sin. The fruitful discussion on the unpardonable sin that the blasphemy challenge initiated not only allayed believers’ concerns that a bunch of kids were condemning themselves to hell, it also erased their own fears that they might have accidentally or even purposefully committed the sin at some point in their lives.

    On what evidence may we conclude that the Blasphemy Challenge has “backfired” and helped Christianity? Your speculations about its effects on believers are not evidence. What we do know is that it has attracted a lot of attention and provided a venue with a potential audience in the millions for people to clearly and publicly express their rejection of Christianity.

    I wouldn’t argue with that, but nevertheless we hear the criticism all the time–if you turn up the volume it won’t matter, because we have heard it all before, and, when we’re not chuckling at your antics

    Who is this “we?” You really should stop presuming to speak for other Christians, or other proponents of religion. And again, your claim here is highly implausible. The more public criticism and challenge religion is exposed to, the weaker its power and influence is likely to become over time. American kids today are much less likely to have been raised in Christianity, or any religion, than their parents and grandparents were, and the ones who are raised in a religion are likely to be exposed to much more challenge and criticism of that religion than previous generations, thanks to the explosion of new media, especially the internet, and the growth of education, especially higher education. The likely effect of these changes is to erode the confidence of religious adherents in the teachings of their religion and to suppress the recruitment of new adherents. The days when parents and local communities could largely control the religious ideas their children and members are exposed to have long gone, and the result has been, and will continue to be, the erosion of power and influence of religion, and especially Christianity, in the marketplace of ideas. The Blasphemy Challenge is a small but sgnificant contribution to this trend.

  170. #170 Jason
    February 9, 2007

    Julia,

    I think your comment is either that Jesus said those who don’t obey the greatest Jewish commandment will be punished by being sent to hell, or else that Jesus said those who don’t love God will be sent to hell. Or perhaps you’re saying both. At any rate, I didn’t realize he ever said either. But then my memory isn’t what it used to be. Source, please?

    Jesus said that the most important commandment of all is to love God. Therefore, all people who don’t love God (or even believe he exists at all), are breaking the most important commandment of all. See Matthew 22:34-38.

    Jesus also said that the just fate of sinners and wrongdoers is eternal punishment in hell. There are many, many verses in the gospels where Jesus describes this fate. See, for example, Matthew 25:46

  171. #171 Ed Brayton
    February 9, 2007

    David Heddle wrote:

    I wouldn’t argue with that, but nevertheless we hear the criticism all the time–if you turn up the volume it won’t matter, because we have heard it all before, and, when we’re not chuckling at your antics (I mean, Sam Harris often has me in stitches) (or, in the case of the blasphemy challenge, benefiting from them) we’re tuning you out, not because we are rude but you can only hear the same talking points a finite number of times.

    By the same token, we non-believers feel exactly the same way when we’re preached at. It’s not as though someone’s going to come up with a new argument we haven’t heard.

  172. #172 DuWayne
    February 9, 2007

    I think that David Heddle has it partly right, though I would argue that it is a war, it is just not as big, in most people’s minds, as it seems. The problem is that what MSM puts out is controversey. Reasonable, thoughtfull, atheists and religionists don’t get the air time, because the news cycle thrives on hard hitting controversey. Add to that a bias on the part of the MSM, for the religionists and you have the ugly mess we see around us.

    Unfortunately, this means that the most fundamental of religionists, get the most air-time, while “live and let live” religionists, get very little. On the rare occasions, when atheists are represented in the media, it is the most extreme or controversial, that get the air time.

    The problem I have with the blasphemy challenge is that it is counter-inuitive. It is basicly saying, “fuck you, stupid christians.” As apposed to the FSM, which is rather inoffensive parody, that can make anyone, of any faith, consider the rationality of religious belief. Most people of faith, that I know, find the FSM rather amusing. Some of the younger people I’m involved with, also find it thought provoking. While I have yet to see any of them leave their faith over it, a lot of them (mostly the young) have begun to think more criticly about it.

    Point being, that while the blasphemy challenge may be cathartic, it just pisses people off, who might otherwise be inclined to question their faith. Building up the false charectorisation of atheists as a bunch of religon baiters. Parody like the FSM, on the other hand, allows people to make a statement of their lack of faith, while actively forcing people to really think about exactly what they really believe.

    I also think that posting the story of one’s de-conversion, would be awsome, I hope to see more venues for such stories. I also really look forward to Jeff Hebert’s posting of such stories. I cannot begin to explain how important such stories have been to me, helping me along my journey – knowing that I am far from alone. While I have not mirrored anyone elses journey of belief, I have come across many people in similar places. Engaging with those people has been instrumental in the building of my courage to denounce many things that I once held quite sacred.

    It too, is very cathartic. Not being one to go for mocking, I can’t say for sure that it is a “better” catharsis, but it is very liberating to state catagoricly, that I do not believe that the Christian bible, as it is popularly manifested, is the dictated word of God. It is also quite liberating to say that I catagoricly reject the notion of hell as explained in the bible. The first time I ever talked about these issues, and clearly stated those beliefs – it was like a huge vice, that had been crushing me, was suddenly opened. And the wonderfull thing about this, is that others can benifit immensly from it. As much as I have benifited from these stories, told by others. I hope that my story can be of service to others around me.

    It has also brought me to respect the beliefs of others. I am happy for anyone who has found peace with their beliefs. The only thing I really get angry about, is when those beliefs include the need to repress the liberties of others. Or when people have a more fundamentalist bent. I have no qualms about criticizing the beliefs of others when they fall into either of those catagories. But otherwise, I find it far more valuable, when the subject comes up at all, to talk about them with respect. The person with which I am engaged can learn about me, and I them. Often this translates into some minor shift or even some major changes, in my perception of my faith – in what I believe – in my understanding of God or god.

  173. #173 Julia
    February 9, 2007

    Jason,

    Thanks. Of course, in neither passage is Jesus quoted as supposedly actually saying that people who don’t obey one or any commandments go to hell or that people who don’t feel love for God go to hell. The first passage you mention is a response to Jews asking a question about the Jewish law, and the second is a story about people who refuse to help those in need. However, I follow your reasoning, and appreciate that you and I agree on the importance of accuracy. I ask only that you note that I, like various other Christians, don’t see either of those sources as Jesus implying that people who don’t feel love for God are punished for their lack of feeling by being sent to hell.

  174. #174 David Heddle
    February 9, 2007

    Jason,

    On what evidence may we conclude that the Blasphemy Challenge has “backfired” and helped Christianity?

    The evidence, like any evidence you might claim to the contrary, is purely anecdotal. The Christian blogosphere, including my own blog, went into high gear after the blasphemy challenge, debating and discussing the actual meaning of the unpardonable sin. I taught on the subject at my own church, and know of other churches that also held special Sunday Schools or seminars on the topic, much like the response to the Da Vinci code. Feedback I have gathered from multiple sources always told the same tale and is similar to my experience on my blog and in my class: people, when they participated in discussions on the topic came away much less frightened by the unpardonable sin. Simple exegesis demonstrated to the satisfaction of virtually everyone that neither the people making the videos nor they personally ever committed it. It was enlightening to find out how many people worried they might have committed it, and really a benefit to release them from that worry. For that they, ironically, have the blasphemy challenge to thank.

    Who is this “we?” You really should stop presuming to speak for other Christians, or other proponents of religion

    (Another criticism that I, or anyone else who expresses their views, has heard a semi-infinite number of times.) You may assume that everything say has an implied, prep-ended “in my opinion.” I do the same for you, mentally inserting the same qualifier, since neither of us speaks for the group to which we claim membership.

    And again, your claim here is highly implausible. The more public criticism and challenge religion is exposed to, the weaker its power and influence is likely to become over time. American kids today are much less likely to have been raised in Christianity, or any religion, than their parents and grandparents were, and the ones who are raised in a religion are likely to be exposed to much more challenge and criticism of that religion than previous generations, thanks to the explosion of new media, especially the internet, and the growth of education, especially higher education. The likely effect of these changes is to erode the confidence of religious adherents in the teachings of their religion and to suppress the recruitment of new adherents.

    So you say, but circumstantial evidence speaks otherwise. What may be stunting Christianity’s growth in the west is its comfort, not the same-old same-old criticism spoken louder and with pixels instead of ink. Christianity has been on the decline in the west, where it is free and its proponents wealthy, for decades. In Asia and Africa and South America, where there is some actual oppression – rather than just having to endure the silly rants of silly eggheads, Christianity is growing. One thing is for sure, not many of us fear atheism, understanding, as we do, basic Christians truths such as he who is in us is stronger than he who is in the world, and no one can snatch one of us from our Father’s hands. I mean, from our point of view, exactly what about atheists would we find threatening? A mistake you make is assuming people choose Christianity, and therefore can possibly be talked out of it. The truth is more complicated, and it renders your efforts impotent.

    Ed,

    By the same token, we non-believers feel exactly the same way when we’re preached at. It’s not as though someone’s going to come up with a new argument we haven’t heard.

    No doubt.

  175. #175 Don
    February 9, 2007

    Jason,

    My belief that religion is more often an excuse for immoral actions rather than an actual cause comes from my understanding and observation of human nature. I realize that is weak evidence and won’t convince you. Fine, then I’ll have to leave my statement as an unsupported assertion.

    But on the other hand you offered the bible as documentation that supports your claim that religion is the cause of immoral actions. You can’t really expect an atheist to accept the word of the bible on anything can you? In another post directed to someone else you said history documents it. In my mind a simple reading of history does not prove cause. I would require a scholarly study of history to prove to me that religion was the major cause of immoral actions. I would be very interested if you are aware of any studies like that. Until then I will maintain my belief that people justify their actions with whatever means are handy at the time.

    My beliefs are simple. I think religion gets too much credit for both the bad things and the good. Christians claim that religion is responsible for most charity and a lot of art. I believe people would still be charitable if religion didn’t exist because people are capable of feeling empathy. I also believe artists will continue to create beautiful works of art because they see and feel beauty in the world. If the masters in their time didn’t have religion they simply would have found other subjects.

  176. #176 Jason
    February 9, 2007

    Julia,

    The first passage you mention is a response to Jews asking a question about the Jewish law,

    No, it’s Jesus’s response to a question about God’s “law,” about God’s foremost commandment. Jesus is quoted making the same response in Mark 12. Presumably, violating the foremost commandment of all is the foremost sin of all, a greater sin than violating some lesser commandment.

    and the second is a story about people who refuse to help those in need.

    No, it’s not a “story” about such people, it’s a statement of what happens to them. Jesus says that what happens to them is that they “will go away into eternal punishment.” This is just one of many, many places in the gospels where Jesus refers to the eternal punishment of hell, a fate he describes using imagery of everlasting fire and burning. In the parable of Lazarus in Luke 16, Jesus describes the fate of a rich man in Hades as “torment.” In the same chapter, by the way, Jesus condemns divorce and remarriage as the sin of adultery. I wonder how many millions of Christians are violating that teaching on a daily basis.

    It’s a wonder, really, that any modern western person could consider a man of such depraved ethics as Jesus to be a moral leader at all, let alone a great one.

  177. #177 Jason
    February 9, 2007

    David Heddle,

    The evidence, like any evidence you might claim to the contrary, is purely anecdotal.

    Then it’s worthless. It seems highly implausible to me that an event in which a large number of people publicly and unashamedly declare their rejection of Christianity to an audience that is potentially in the millions will have the effect of helping rather than hurting Christianity, whatever discussion it may have provoked in your church. Not that your claim about the effects of that discussion are plausible, either. I wonder how many Christians were unaware of this “unpardonable sin” before it was publicized by the Blasphemy Challenge, or had never really given it much thought before, and whose doubts about the merits of the Bible or Christianity have increased as a result of this attention.

    You may assume that everything say has an implied, prep-ended “in my opinion.”

    Qualifying your statement in that way does not give you the authority to speak for Christians as a whole, or even just Christians in general.

  178. #178 Julia
    February 9, 2007

    Yes, Jason, as I said, I was already following your reasoning, or I think I do. I was understanding

    that you are viewing God as having “laws” rather like people do and like the Jews of that period believed that God had,

    and that you are seeing the bit about not helping those in need as a literal description of a literal event (and I see now that you do recognize the bit about Lazarus as an illustrative story, though you pick out a piece of it to see as literal),

    and that you are presuming that not following what Jesus referred to as the greatest commandment would be the greatest sin

    and that you are reasoning that as, according to your belief, Jesus was describing a literal sending of people to a literal place with literal fire for not tending to the needs of others this must of necessity mean Jesus would also send people to a literal hell for committing what you have presumed to be the “foremost sin.”

    Given your reasoning, I accept and respect your anger and dislike. As I said, I ask only that you note that I, like various other Christians, don’t see either of those sources as Jesus implying that people who don’t feel love for God are punished for their lack of feeling by being sent to hell.

  179. #179 Dave L
    February 9, 2007

    David said:

    A mistake you make is assuming people choose Christianity, and therefore can possibly be talked out of it. The truth is more complicated, and it renders your efforts impotent.

    Then why do some Christians ‘de-convert’ and become atheists? Whether someone else is trying to ‘talk them out of it’ or whether they do it themselves isn’t that relevant. I’m really hoping the answer is not that they weren’t ‘real’ Christians to begin with.

  180. #180 Jason
    February 9, 2007

    David Heddle,

    So you say, but circumstantial evidence speaks otherwise. What may be stunting Christianity’s growth in the west is its comfort, not the same-old same-old criticism spoken louder and with pixels instead of ink. Christianity has been on the decline in the west, where it is free and its proponents wealthy, for decades.

    I don’t know what you mean by Christianity’s “comfort” and I don’t know what “circumstantial evidence” you’re referring to. The rise of public education, the spread of alternative belief systems and philosophies, and the increasing importance of science and rational inquiry in people’s lives in the developed world has been accompanied by the decline of Christianity and of religion as a whole. It does not seem likely to me that these two trends are unconnected.

    In the developing world, poverty and ignorance still make people easy prey for superstition and religious evangelism, so any future growth in Christianity is likely to occur there. But in the developed world, it’s increasingly a lost cause.

  181. #181 Jason
    February 9, 2007

    Julia,

    If you don’t like the word “law” or “commandment” (although those terms are perfectly standard usage in Christian writings) call them “rules” or “moral prescriptions” or whatever you like. It makes no difference. The point is that, as taught by Jesus, the most important “rule” of all is to love God. Not to help people, or turn the other cheek, or feed the poor. But to love God. The billions of people who don’t love God (or even believe he exists at all) are therefore violating this most important “rule” described by Jesus.

    And you have misunderstood me if you think I was suggesting that Jesus is saying that hell is a literal physical location where sinners literally burn. I think it’s quite likely he was speaking figuratively, not literally. But the point is that the language and imagery Jesus uses to describe hell portray it as a place or condition of enormous pain and suffering, a condition that is eternal. It’s not surprising, therefore, that this is standard Christian teaching. Almost all Christian denominations, including the largest ones such as the Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention, teach that hell is a state of ETERNAL PUNISHMENT for sin.

  182. #182 David Heddle
    February 9, 2007

    Dave L,

    Sorry to dash your hope, but that is exactly my answer. The bible tells us that if they leave, it was because they were never really of us. Now a more subtle question is: did they actually believe they were Christians. There I am convinced that, in many cases, they did. That is, they mistakenly think their deconversion was real transition from Christian to non-Christian.

  183. #183 Broken Spelchecker
    February 9, 2007

    David Heddle, you spend far to much time blathering at Christianity’s critics to convince me or anyone whose awake that you believe Harris et al. are either mere blips on religion’s raydar or can be laughed of altogather.

    It’s plain that Christianity and other religious cults will fail in the relativly near future if one or more of them don’t help destroy humanaty first. More and more, the evidents against both their principals and their utility is becoming to overwhelming for the chief fundrazors and brainwashers to offset, and eventually the idea of am actual God/Christ deity, a genuine Second Coming, and the whole creation-flood-resurrection saga will be as folksy and quaint as the Olympiss gods are today.

    What’s amazing is that someone like Heddel can rise up and make sweeping statements of truth regarding utter faulking noncents. I mean no particular disrespect of Christianity, or Islam, or Jewdaism, or Moarmonism, or the polytheistic flavor of choice, or no-moon-landing-ers, or other slingers of lies and trash. But I cannot “respect” a belief system that rests on absolutely nothing but the same crap that has been exposed, to no one’s surprise, as purely mythical with respect to various other cults.

    Heddal is a smart guy and as usual has gotten people hear fixated on pointless scriptural minusha. The postulate that the Bible is bellshit to begin with rests on firm ground until someone can produse independent evidence for why anyone should believe a bloody wourd of it.

    The Blasfemy Challenge isn’t the most eloquent noise out there, no. But the fact that we can say this is actually good, because it means that there’s already a gawdlessness “market” and standards by which to judge quality. Atheism even at this stage isn’t reliant on sheer noise — it’s already home to polight, compelling, and relentless voices, amny of them not surprisingly the same ones the Heddiles out there hasten to scream don’t matter to them.

  184. #184 Jason
    February 9, 2007

    The bible tells us that if they leave, it was because they were never really of us.

    Then what makes you think you’re a real Christian? After all, you may also leave at some point in the future, which would mean, by your reading of the Bible, that you’re not a real Christian now and never have been a real Christian.

  185. #185 David Heddle
    February 9, 2007

    Jason,

    Then what makes you think you’re a real Christian? After all, you may also leave at some point in the future, which would mean, by your reading of the Bible, that you’re not a real Christian now and never have been a real Christian.

    Well, because I haven’t left.

    If I leave, it would be because I would come to think Christianity was false–in which case I would then conclude I never was a real Christain, because I would have decided that no such a person actually exists.

    But I don’t think I’ll leave, because I think I’m a real Christian, and I don’t believe any Christian can lose his salvation.

    But if I do, then I’ll agree that, when I wrote this, in spite of what I believed at the time, I wasn’t a real Christian.

    That makes sense as I reread it, so that must mean it’s bedtime.

  186. #186 Don
    February 9, 2007

    I am suddenly hearing the no True Scotsman fallacy playing in my head. I’m not sure if that’s from David’s post or the fact that I can’t help but read Broken Spelchecker’s post with a Gaelic lilt. Maybe both.

  187. #187 GH
    February 9, 2007

    Good grief is this thread still going on:-)

    The bible tells us that if they leave, it was because they were never really of us. Now a more subtle question is: did they actually believe they were Christians. There I am convinced that, in many cases, they did. That is, they mistakenly think their deconversion was real transition from Christian to non-Christian.

    This is the silliest piece of spew I read online today. People who believed and where real bona fide paid up Christians can’t be believed but a book written by who knows who can. Do you know how silly you sound in this paragraph above?

    Isn’t it more likely that the bible written by some superstitious individual is simply incorrect and these people in fact did deconvert. I mean calling a man a liar when he’s flat out telling you he believed and now doesn’t seems to be pretty potent firsthand evidence. He’s not claiming to have witnessed a miracle just stating what he did in fact believe. In this case it is clear you are in fact the one clearly mistaken.

    Jason-

    In the same chapter, by the way, Jesus condemns divorce and remarriage as the sin of adultery.

    While I agree with much of what you say, lanquage scholars have long known this passage to be passive. The adultery is the divorce not a remarriage. It is a common word in scripture that means covenant breaking. The RCC used to view it this way but changed in the 15th century to ‘bring sanctity back to marriage’. I suggest the reading of language scholars Hicks and Maxey for a fuller understanding.

    If I leave, it would be because I would come to think Christianity was false–in which case I would then conclude I never was a real Christain, because I would have decided that no such a person actually exists.

    Why? Just because you weren’t it?

    But I don’t think I’ll leave, because I think I’m a real Christian, and I don’t believe any Christian can lose his salvation.

    But if I do, then I’ll agree that, when I wrote this, in spite of what I believed at the time, I wasn’t a real Christian.

    Damn, just damn, that is some bizarre, bizarre stuff. Or perhaps your version of what a ‘real’ Christian is happens to be flawed. You are a near perfect example of what is portrayed in Shermers book ‘Why Smart People Believe Dumb Things’. It’s almost textbook.

  188. #188 Dave L
    February 10, 2007

    David said:

    That makes sense as I reread it…

    I wish it did for me. I realized after rereading it that you are again using your own special definition of ‘Christian’, which I believe you define something like someone who God/Jesus has chosen or saved or filled their heart. I believe it was pointed out that there’s no telling who’s a ‘real’ Christian under such a definition. Why the special definition for just Christians? If someone was Republican and then changes to a Democrat they were never really Republican?

    Maybe I should just say, you’re right, Christians can’t be talked out of Christianity if we define Christians as people who can’t be talked out of Christianity. Insightful.

  189. #189 Kevembuangga
    February 10, 2007

    I am flabbergasted at the HUGE pile of horseshit in this thread!
    Nobody ever mentionned Scott Atran, do any religionist ever read Atran?
    Hairsplitting about minutiae is useless, unsupported and inconsistent beliefs are plain psychiatric syndromes, alas they cannot be cured because they are byproducts of otherwise beneficial “paranoid” traits selected by evolutionary pressures.
    PERIOD.

  190. #190 David Heddle
    February 10, 2007

    DaveL,

    Almost but not quite. Most of Christianity splits along the Calvinist-Arminian line–between predestination and non-predestination views. However in this instance, we are talking about a doctrine (Eternal Security) that crosses the line. All Calvinists (that so-called special Christianity you described–even though it has a huge number of followers, not obvious because it does not include very public American fundamentalist evangelicals–Falwell, Roberston and their followers, etc. who are Arminian) believe the bible teaches that nobody can lose their salvation and roughly half the Arminians agree. So a majority of Christians believe that once-saved, always saved. Many passages support it.

    I’ll point out the obvious. If someone walks away from Christianity, they do not think they lost their salvation–they think they never had it, that it is a myth–they think they were deluded. All I’m saying is: I agree, they never had it.

  191. #191 Saint Gasoline
    February 10, 2007

    Look at all the comments this tiny little post has provoked…

    This is why the Blasphemy Challenge is effective. It gets people talking about these issues.

  192. #192 John B
    February 10, 2007

    I am disturned by the number of Atheists/Secularists/Naturalists who indulge in the fantasy that we can leapfrog from a culture dominated by religion to a secular culture that treats everyone equally.

    Making the declaration of a person’s private religious beliefs seem like a significant move in some ‘culture war’ is not movement toward a secular society. It is the opposite.

    If there is a portion of your society befouling secular discourse with their religious values, demanding that religious identity such be the basis for political decision-making, social policy, scientific progress, etc… You cannot ‘fight’ them by engaging in precisely the argument they wish to have. People’s religious identity, or lack thereof, should be irrelevant in a secular society.

    On the issue of religion causing evil: This is, again, a simplistic inversion of the Theist’s claim that their personal religion is the only source of morality. Dawkins himself has an argument about how atheists can be moral, this argument claims that morality is a dynamic culturally-defined construct, a ‘spirit of the times’, that most people use to interpret their moral tradition. I can’t understand why a theist would have no access to this same morality.

  193. #193 J. J. Ramsey
    February 10, 2007

    Saint Gasoline: “This is why the Blasphemy Challenge is effective. It gets people talking about these issues.”

    Getting people talking is a good start, as is getting people to be unafraid of calling themselves atheists.

    Acceptance of gays, for example, has improved because people are increasingly seeing them as real, ordinary people. I don’t think that has quite happened yet with atheists, and I’m not so sure that the Blasphemy Challenge helps in this regard. The YouTube videos that are in the “thiests is stoopid” mold probably hurt here more than they help.

  194. #194 Dave L
    February 10, 2007

    David, I’m saying that Christian usually means someone who professes and lives their life by Christ’s teachings, period. Your definition of ‘saved’ essentially makes it meaningless to refer to anyone, even one’s self, as ‘saved’; can’t say you’re saved until you’ve died and gone to heaven. God chooses who he will and even though like you alluded to above you may ‘believe you are a Christian’, he may decide, or for the Calvinist he has decided, otherwise. If Zeus shows up and lays to rest any misconceptions that Yahweh/Jesus are deities, it’s still obviously correct to say that you were a Christian, at least up until that point.

    I can’t help but think that you prefer a much narrower definition of Christian so you can say things like…

    A mistake you make is assuming people choose Christianity, and therefore can possibly be talked out of it. The truth is more complicated, and it renders your efforts impotent.

    Nope, people believe Christianity, and beliefs are changed all the time. Your second sentence, I’ll just note that the truth has the same effect to your efforts also.

  195. #195 Leni
    February 10, 2007

    I thought this was interesting:

    David Heddle wrote:

    The evidence, like any evidence you might claim to the contrary, is purely anecdotal. The Christian blogosphere, including my own blog, went into high gear after the blasphemy challenge, debating and discussing the actual meaning of the unpardonable sin. I taught on the subject at my own church, and know of other churches that also held special Sunday Schools or seminars on the topic, much like the response to the Da Vinci code. Feedback I have gathered from multiple sources always told the same tale and is similar to my experience on my blog and in my class: people, when they participated in discussions on the topic came away much less frightened by the unpardonable sin. Simple exegesis demonstrated to the satisfaction of virtually everyone that neither the people making the videos nor they personally ever committed it. It was enlightening to find out how many people worried they might have committed it, and really a benefit to release them from that worry. For that they, ironically, have the blasphemy challenge to thank.

    I wouldn’t necessarily call this a backfire.

    Less superstition is better. Fewer people living in fear of words is (probably) an improvement. Both for those individuals and hopefully the larger society.

    I think that’s an improvement in the same way that Christians who disregard the proscriptions against homosexuality are an improvement on the Fred Phelps/AFA variety.

  196. #196 Jason
    February 10, 2007

    I am disturned by the number of Atheists/Secularists/Naturalists who indulge in the fantasy that we can leapfrog from a culture dominated by religion to a secular culture that treats everyone equally.

    If by “leapfrog” you mean some kind of very rapid change, you’re probably right that this is unlikely. But the decline of religion and the rise of secularism may still be happening much faster than you think. The American Religious Identification Survey found that the proportion of the U.S. population that does not identify with any religion almost doubled between 1990 and 2001, from about 8% to about 14%. The proportion that identified as Christian declined from 86% to 77% over the same period. This is an astonishing rate of change. If the trend continues (and there is no indication that it is slowing), within a few decades only a small minority of Americans will identify with any religion, and by mid-century, religious identification will have disappeared almost entirely. Of course, religious identification is only one metric of religiosity. But other measures (rates of attendance at religious services, rates of religious education of children, etc.) also show major declines. It’s the same story in Europe, and throughout the developed world. In fact, in Europe the rapid decline of religion seems to have started earlier than in the U.S. and to be correspondingly more advanced. British sociologist of religion Steve Bruce says that, on current trends, the Methodist Church will effectively cease to exist in Britain around 2031, and that the Church of England (by far the largest religious denomination in Britain) “will by then be reduced to a trivial voluntary association with a large portfolio of heritage property” and that “regular churchgoers will be too few to show up in representative national surveys.” The U.S. may be a decade or two behind Britain, but the same pattern is happening here too.

  197. #197 Colugo
    February 10, 2007

    Jason’s demographic analysis of the decline of Protestantism in the UK is missing something, namely another Abrahamic faith rising in Britain and the rest of Europe due to immigration, differential birthrates, and conversion.

    Is it possible that this competing Abrahamic faith will, following Western trends, also become watered down and finally turn give way to freethought? Perhaps, but not anytime soon.

    Globally, besides Islam don’t count out fast-growing faiths like Charismatic Christianity (especially Africa), Mormonism, and Bahai.

  198. #198 GH
    February 10, 2007

    My disagreements with Heddle aside I do think he is mostly correct on the ‘once saved always saved’ doctrine. The other alternatives in Christianity leave much to be desired from many standpoints.

  199. #199 Pseudonym
    February 10, 2007

    Jason:

    Firstly, a correction. I wrote:

    First off, these are both assertions presented without evidence.

    What I meant to say was that both interpretations were presented without any evidence which makes one any more compelling than the other.

    Recall that one interpretation is that evils are caused by religion and the other is that evils are caused by people who justify it with religion.

    Heretics were tortured by the Inquisition, a religious organization that was part of the Roman Catholic Church, for the religious purpose of saving their souls or the souls of others. Homosexuals have been persecuted for violating religious moral prohibitions on homosexual sex as described in, for example, the Christian Bible.

    People were tortured and homosexual people were persecuted by the Nazi regime without citing the Christian Bible, or indeed any religion. You haven’t established that the Inquisiton wouldn’t have taken place if it weren’t for religion, you’ve merely pointed out (quite rightly) that if it had happened, the excuse would have been different.

    Now I’m not suggesting that religion is historically blameless. We can and should hold organisations (be they religious or otherwise) which participate in or turn a blind eye to evil accountable. What I am saying is that it’s wrong to say that religion causes things which are just part of human nature. “My priest says so” is exactly the same excuse as “I was just following orders”; religion is nothing special in that respect.

    If religion has no net adverse effect on the ethics and health of a society, why are, say, Sweden and the Netherlands so much more free, prosperous, and progressive than, say, Saudi Arabia and Iran?

    You can thank Genghis Khan for that. A thousand years ago, the lands now known as Saudi Arabia and Iran were much more free, prosperous and progressive than Europe was at the same time. Had history been just a little different, the Renaissance, the Age of Explorers and the Enlightenment may well have happened in Muslim lands.

  200. #200 Jason
    February 11, 2007

    Colugo,

    Islam isn’t growing remotely fast enough in Europe (or the U.S.) to offset the massive decline of Christianity. Less than 3% of the population of Britain is Muslim, the vast majority of British Muslims are immigrants or children of immigrants, and it seems unlikely that they will be able to resist the trend of secularization that is decimating Christianity in Britain as they assimilate further into British culture. Of course, many adult immigrants never fully assimilate to their adopted country, and adult Muslim immigrants to Britain may remain observant Muslims for the rest of their lives. But their British-born children and grandchildren are much more likely to adopt the secular values and way of life of other Britons.

  201. #201 Colugo
    February 11, 2007

    Jason:

    You may be right about the secularizing effects of assimilation.

    The US has been much more successful at integrating Muslim and Arab immigrants into society than Europe has. Perhaps Europe should look to America as a model for that.

  202. #202 Colugo
    February 11, 2007

    Speaking of the Blasphemy Challenge:
    http://yro.slashdot.org/yro/07/02/10/214250.shtml

    “YouTube: reader skraps notes that the Google property has recently banned the popular atheist commentator Nick Gisburne. Gisburne had been posting videos with logical arguments against Christian beliefs; but when he turned his attention to Islam …, YouTube pulled the plug, saying: ‘After being flagged by members of the YouTube community, and reviewed by YouTube staff, the video below has been removed due to its inappropriate nature. Due to your repeated attempts to upload inappropriate videos, your account now been permanently disabled, and your videos have been taken down.’”

    This is not a free speech issue (YouTube is a private company) but a double standards issue – both on the part of YouTube and of many people who support the Blasphemy Challenge and other attacks on Christianity but are against such criticism, even by a fellow atheist, against Islam. Let’s face it, Christianity is a pretty safe target.

  203. #203 Redsky
    February 17, 2007

    Hi There.
    Blasphemy in the Greek is written in the Aorist which some people say is a tense but is actually an aspect. Aorist means indefinite or without limits. Jesus said, if you indefinitely blaspheme etc… But when you write it in Greek, you don’t need to include the word indefinitely, you just need to write it in the Aorist. When you translate the Greek into English, because there is no Aorist, it sounds like a one off event.
    So there is no such thing as an eternal sin, Mr. Sapient has only succeeded in making his followers look stupid. Not only this, but if Mr Sapient can make such an error of judgment, then how can the content of his documentary be trusted?
    On a final note, I understand the meaning of the word Sapient is wise. The Bible says, “They thought they were wise, but became fools”
    Perhaps the not so wise Mr. Sapient should stick with the surname Flemming from now on.

  204. #204 Bill Baker
    March 18, 2007

    As a Deist myself,I like the blasphemy challenge in principle.
    My one issue with it is that it is part of a mnove by MILITANT Atheists to join the Christians in dualizing the culture war as beeing a war between Christianity{and perhaps “Islam”} and Atheism.
    Ignoring, subverting, and minimalizing all the middle voices; extremists ignoring reason,rationality, and moderation.

    Now, I have no problem with the reactionary blasphemy. I’ve been known to take part in such things myself as a former Christina and Former theist. But it seems to me that Militant Athiests want to take over Atheism and monopolize reason,evidence,science,secularism, and so on; in the process joining with Richard Dawkins stupid comment that Deism is “watered down theism”{which would be “liberal theism”, which is an aid to the fundamentalists of couse, making us deists just as bad as he Christians and Muslims and other revealed religionists}, and also to usurp Agnosticism- either demonzing it as fence riding, or implying it as closet Atheism in denial essentially.
    If one pays close attention they will see that the Militant Atheists taking the voice of reason in the culture war{by shouting and whining the loudest}- they will see a arrogance within their movement akin to perhaps not so dangerous as the Abrahamics; essentially “our way is the ONE TRUE way”{no room for outright agnosticism, or for Deism in it;s several forms, and so on}. I find this monopoly on the battel, and on all those positive things mentioned above, as done by MILITANT Athiests to be rather sad{and perhaps a sign that, if they are willing to ignore,insult, and demonize Deists and Agnostics so openly like this along with the theists; that maybe, just maybe, they are on the road to becoming so fanatic for Atheism that they will become the new oppressors some day, if tey don’t abandon this arrogance of theirs and attach themselves to “reason”- and not merely “rhetorically’ but in practice.}

    On that note, I have nothing against Atheism itself; I often have found myself going out of the ay to defend this rational position and it’s adherents from theists and P.C. fools whom think that the the Abrahanic religions are just beieng “misused” by fundies.
    I often say that whilst Agnosticism is the most logical position to take{and the ONE AND ONLY “TRULY” FAITHLESS ONE}-The soft/weak or ‘reasoned” faith{or perhaps semi-faithless of Atheism is equal to and in a stalemate with the soft/weak or “reasoned” faith{or perhaps semi-faithless} of Deism{s}.
    And I’m a big fan of the blasphemy challenge in principle, I am also a fan of the writings and works of some of the leaders of this Militant Atheist pack- Sam Harris, Brian Fleemming,etc; ‘m not a fan of Dawkinsat the moment because the man obviously does not understand WHAT Deism, Agnosticism, or for tha matter pantheism, Is/are; and merely wants to push a militant Atheism and clal it “reason” itself.}

    Anyways, catharsis is good. I was comitting the “unpardonable’ christian sin since January of 2004 when I apostasized from Christianity and theism in general, and I’ve done it in the most creative and blasphemous ways imaginable- ones that would make the militant atheists behind the blasphemy challenge blush{someitmes it invlved sex,masturbation, porn and so on}, I also attended a church a used to go to and I went last year to their easter service, sat silently, went up at the altar call-waited for some people to come over and lay hands on me to pray for me[they mostly knew me and knew I had left the faith and probably assumed I was coming back; and the head guy is one of my personal enemies, as he and I have butted heads even back when I was still christian}- I looked up at them{at him especially] and said “I deny the holy spirit”- pulled out my inverted crucifix necklace from my shirt and walked out. I plan on making this a yearly easter tradition at various churches. I also once did the same thing when I walked into the local Youth For Christ offices. I’ve no shame in beieng blasphemous to theism{And as a heretic and iconoclst supreme, even in challenging other non-theists= including deists}.

    So,as catharsis is useful and healthy and good- I will end this with my own blasphemy response.
    As a Deist since January 2004, and still proudly one….
    I Deny YhVh{Yahweh},Christ,Allah, and all theistic deities; and ABOVE ALL- I DENY THE CHRISTIAN{AND JUDAIC AND ISLAMIC} HOLY SPIRIT!!! and I deny all the myths,doctrines, and dogmas of such absurd and dangerous faiths.
    I also encourage other Deists to do the same thing proudly; we need some Deists to take up the blaspemy challenge on youtube-proclaim their deism and do the blasphemy thing as well- to balance the Militant Atheism of the current blasphemy challenge}

    BLASPHEME THE HOLY GHOST!!!

    In Reason:
    Bill “Iconoclastithon” Baker

    “there is no greater weapon against errors of any kind than REASON”- Thomas Paine

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