Atheism Display in Washington State

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has won the right to post an anti-religion display next to a Christmas tree and a naticity scene in the Capitol rotunda in Washington State:

An atheist group has unveiled an anti-religion placard in the state Capitol, joining a Christian Nativity scene and “holiday tree” on display during December.

The atheists’ sign was installed Monday by Washington members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national group based in Madison, Wis.

With a nod to the winter solstice – the year’s shortest day occurring in late December – the placard reads: “At this season of the Winter Solstice may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

I like it!

Now, this is the place where one gets lectured about how anytime an atheist does something other than sit quietly in his home, he is just going to inflame religious folks and start a backlash. That is nonsense for two reasons. The first is simply that the way you gain social acceptance for a point of view is by making it so ubiquitous and visbile that people eventually come to accept it as normal. The second is typified by the article itself:

[Local real estate agent Ron] Wesselius agrees with the state’s decision to allow the atheist display and says to let the public decide what to believe.

On Monday, the Nativity scene and atheist sign were installed alongside each other in a hallway between the state Senate and House chambers, separated by a large bust of the state’s namesake, George Washington.

Asked whether he was bothered by the atheist display next to his Nativity scene, Wesselius said, “I think the Nativity scene will speak for itself.” But he added, “I appreciate freedom of speech and freedom of access. That’s why they’re in there, and hey – you know, that’s great.”

Mr. Wesselius was the fellow who fought for the nativity scene. I suspect his reaction is pretty typical of religious folks generally, most of whom do not get bent out of shape by being reminded there are atheists around. Most religious folks will greet the atheist display with a shrug of the shoulders (which is, after all, how atheists generally respond to the ubiquitous religious displays with which they disagree), or perhaps with a raise of the eyebrows due to the novelty of it. The signficant fraction of the church-going public for whom church is about socializing, as opposed to getting right with God, will probably smile inwardly.

Alas, it is inevitable that not everyone will be so even-tempered about the situation. Here’s Bill O’Reilly explaining the true significance of the display:

Now, this is political correctness gone mad. There’s no reason whatsoever to allow an anti-religious sign to be posted alongside a Christmas display. It is inappropriate and out of context.

Christmas is a federal holiday honoring a religious man, Jesus. We also honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in this country. Does that mean we have to put up a sign next to his likeness to appease those who may not like his religious affiliation? Of course not.

The buck stops with Governor Gregoire, who refused to even issue a statement about this, and she walks past that sign everyday. She is a weak, confused leader who is allowing a small fanatical group parity in Christmas displays.

I mean, how crazy is this? What’s next, an atheist display next to the “Welcome to Corpus Christi, Texas” sign?

Governor Gregoire’s phone number is 360-902-4111, and you should respectfully tell her how you feel about this, because if cowardly politicians don’t get the message, we can kiss our traditions goodbye in this country.

If atheists want a public holiday honoring the Winter Solstice, fine. Petition your congressperson. We don’t celebrate Ramadan in this country because our traditions are Judeo-Christian, not Muslim, not agnostic.

Washington state is ground zero for just about every nutty secular cause on earth. But this time, the state has embarrassed itself and the nation.

I wonder if O’Reilly understands that Jesus was not a Christian. And the national holiday for Christmas has nothing to do with honoring Jesus as a man of great accomplishment who happened to be religious. It is not comparable to the holiday for Martin Luther King. The holiday was actually established in the 1870′s as part of the general Christian revival in America at that time. I have no problem with that. Christmas is important to so many people that it makes sense on practical grounds to make it a holiday (just as some or all of Rosh Hoshanah is often a holiday in areas with large Jewish populations.) But let us please drop any nonsense that Christmas is a secular holiday recognized by all. This is not Thanksgivign, for heaven’s sake.

And the context here is simply that the Government is not allowed to endorse one particular religious view over another, which it would surely be doing if it made its space open only to representatives of one particular religion.

Personally, I would prefer that government buildings remain free of annoying religious baubles. Those Christians who simply must have visual reminders of their holidays will simply have to make do with decorating their homes, their churches, and any private businesses that care to participate. But if we are going to get the government involved in the religion business, we had better be willing to tolerate some basic fairness as we do so.

Comments

  1. #1 Tony P
    December 3, 2008

    The whole creche thing came to a head in RI several years back. The ACLU got upset because cities and towns would only allow creche or Nativity scenes.

    Finally they all capitulated and pretty much any group could put up a sign. That got a little too much though.

    So now it’s usually the pagan symbol of the yule tree that is on the steps of City Hall and State House alike.

    I just wish everyone a happy Saturnalia/Solstice.

  2. #2 cwfong
    December 3, 2008

    It’s doubtful if one can extol he benefits of atheism by inadvertently or otherwise coming off as simply a hardened God hater.

  3. #3 penn
    December 3, 2008

    cwfong, how can you hate something that you don’t think exists? It’s like hating a minotaur, or a unicorn. I hate how every time atheists make any public display of their atheism we hear this chorus of “That specific statement won’t actually convert anybody.” I don’t hear that about the millions of public signs across the country telling me to find Jesus. The whole point is to make atheism mainstream, so that when kids growing up today become adults they will accept atheists and atheism as normal and natural things.

  4. #4 cwfong
    December 3, 2008

    penn,
    That was my point – that atheists (of which I am one) often come off as hating the thing that they don’t believe in – seeing the metaphor as more than just a metaphor perhaps.

    You don’t really counter a sign that says jesus exists by pronouncing that if by any chance he does, he’s no better than the devil.

  5. #5 Jason Rosenhouse
    December 3, 2008

    You don’t really counter a sign that says jesus exists by pronouncing that if by any chance he does, he’s no better than the devil.

    That’s a pretty radical reading of what’s going on here. The Freedom From Religion Foundation is simply countering representations of Christian beliefs with representations of atheist beliefs. Seems perfectly reasonable to me.

  6. #6 Don
    December 3, 2008

    Keith Olberman’s comment on this -
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3036677/#28041678

  7. #7 cwfong
    December 4, 2008

    Jason,
    Couldn’t it be reasonable in a more persuasive manner? If not then I stand corrected.

  8. #8 Davis
    December 4, 2008

    You don’t really counter a sign that says jesus exists by pronouncing that if by any chance he does, he’s no better than the devil.

    Could you point out to me the part of

    At this season of the Winter Solstice may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.

    that even remotely translates into your statement?

  9. #9 Brandon
    December 4, 2008

    “We don’t celebrate Ramadan in this country because our traditions are Judeo-Christian, not Muslim, not agnostic.”
    Does O’Reilly realize that Muslims can celebrate Ramadan regardless of our country’s supposed Judeo-Christian origin? Or is he too busy raving about a war on Christmas to notice?

  10. #10 penn
    December 4, 2008

    I did not read any anger in the statement. The only comparison between gods and devils is that they are alike in their non-existence. They don’t make any statements about there relative merits if they did exist.

  11. #11 Reginald Selkirk
    December 4, 2008

    While I appreciate that Washington state has upheld the principles of the land by allowing an open forum, I think the FFRF could have been less confrontational in their choice of test. I think the recent “be good for goodness’ sake” and the “you are not alone” slogans are much better at expressing a nonreligious viewpoint without bashing those who do not share that viewpoint.

  12. #12 Reginald Selkirk
    December 4, 2008

    Oh BillO, check this out:
    Ramadan in America

  13. #13 cwfong
    December 4, 2008

    Davis and Penn:
    “Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

    That’s giving religion a bit of a bad name and bad purpose that may not apply across the board, don’t you think? Put that on a sign by a creche and you’re not exactly preaching to that particular choir.

    I’d prefer a sign that says Christ meant well but O’Reilly is a heartless mindless dick nonetheless.

  14. #14 Davis
    December 4, 2008

    That’s giving religion a bit of a bad name and bad purpose that may not apply across the board, don’t you think?

    That’s a far cry from your original claim that this sign somehow says that, if Jesus existed, he was no better than the devil. Are you backing down from that rather ridiculous caricature, I hope?

  15. #15 Davis
    December 4, 2008

    I’d prefer a sign that says Christ meant well but O’Reilly is a heartless mindless dick nonetheless.

    Also, please explain to me why attacking religion is synonymous with attacking Jesus (assuming he was a real person).

  16. #16 cwfong
    December 4, 2008

    Davis, where you place the sign is part of the context through which we infer meaning. If you don’t see that inference, it’s possibly because you are not one of those who gets meaning from the creche. But the sign, and you’ll correct me if i”m wrong, was meant for those people as much as for the rest of us. In that context, it was not persuasive.

    I’m an atheist raised as a Christian. I can still feel the emotions generated by their tableaux.
    I would have sensed there were counter emotions that motivated the signers. I would not have been persuaded there was logic behind them.

  17. #17 jg
    December 4, 2008

    Its always been a curious thing it is Christianity that is always in the cross hairs of athiests. Compared to the Christianity, the number similar displays by athiests or even articles or books “correcting” these religions is miniscule.

    That display at the capital was not a passsive, point-of-fact sign. It was an attack on the nativity display itself, and therefore directed to Christians. If you doubt this, try putting the same statement “Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds” in the context of an Islamic themed display, and see what sort of reaction results. Substitute out the word “Religion”, why hide what you’re protesting?

    Mr. Wesselius’ gracious comments is a typical Christian response (not sure if he is a Christian), not because it is the normal reaction, but because it is a reaction reflecting Christ’s message. See Matt 10:11-16.

    Regarding the comment on Jesus being Jewish, Mr. Riley is fully aware of that, as are most Christians.

  18. #18 Davis
    December 4, 2008

    Its always been a curious thing it is Christianity that is always in the cross hairs of athiests.

    That may have something to do with the fact that Christianity is the overwhelmingly dominant religion in this country (and as a corollary, is typically the religion afforded special privileges in the US). Can you point me to any prominent Islamic-themed displays in a state capitol?

  19. #19 Davis
    December 4, 2008

    But the sign, and you’ll correct me if i”m wrong, was meant for those people as much as for the rest of us. In that context, it was not persuasive.

    So you do indeed back away from your original “they’re saying Christ is as bad as the devil claim”, albeit implicitly. Fair enough.

    I’m not sure why you think they’re trying to persuade anyone with this (are Christians trying to persuade people with a creche?). I see presenting displays like this as a normative action — by making atheism more visible, atheists can eventually become an unremarkable segment of the community.

  20. #20 cwfong
    December 4, 2008

    Davis,
    I didn’t back away from anything at all. The implication would be clear to the Christians, but if you are in denial that there was any persuasive intent at all, then of course you won’t see any such inference. And if you can’t see what I see, then I guess that means I didn’t really see it.

  21. #21 tomh
    December 4, 2008

    O’Reilly: The buck stops with Governor Gregoire

    O’Reilly is so uninformed that he doesn’t know the governor fought this in court until Washington was forced to settle. You can read the settlement here.

  22. #22 Paul Murray
    December 4, 2008

    Its always been a curious thing it is Christianity that is always in the cross hairs of athiests. Compared to the Christianity, the number similar displays by athiests or even articles or books “correcting” these religions is miniscule.

    Perhaps you would see it differently if you were a native hindi or arabic speaker. If all you read is english, then yes I suppose it seems like this.

  23. #23 Davis
    December 5, 2008

    The implication would be clear to the Christians, but if you are in denial that there was any persuasive intent at all, then of course you won’t see any such inference.

    So to summarize your logic, if atheists are trying to persuade Christians that their religion is incorrect, then they’re claiming that Jesus is as bad as Satan (or at least, Christians will think that’s what they’re saying). You either have little respect for the intellect of Christians, or little respect for logic; either way, I’m washing my hands of this discussion, thanks.

  24. #24 cwfong
    December 5, 2008

    Davis, you are summarizing your logic – or lack thereof – not mine. There was no inference that the particular situation had to be representative of the general strategy of atheists.
    I have respect for the intelligence of intelligent Christians, but little respect for your silly and transparent attempts at defending those who don’t. The Socratic method is not suitable for those who think the trick is simply to be devious.

    Your students at the old Davis cow college are laughing behind your back.

  25. #25 heddle
    December 5, 2008

    My feeling is that it is a somewhat low-class, undignified, in-your-face message. That’s just me. If I were an atheist a) Well, I wouldn’t care about the sign, just like as a Christian I don’t care about the Christmas displays, but b) if I did care, I’d want to see the high-road taken. I’d have wanted the message to stop after “There is only our natural world.” And I’d prefer it to read the natural world rather than our natural world.

  26. #26 FastLane
    December 5, 2008

    I support this in principle, but I really wish the FFRF would have left the last sentence off their display. I think it would have made the statemen more powerful, and then when BillO had his apoplectic fit, he would have looked (even more) the douche.

    As it is, the attacking nature of that last sentence gives the godbotherers ammunition. Then again, it’s not like they’ve been shy about calling us non-religious folk names, but I’m not a fan of tu quoque (sp?) as a means of argument.

  27. #27 J. J. Ramsey
    December 5, 2008

    I would sort of agree with Fastlane. I’d definitely leave off the part about religion hardening hearts and enslaving minds, since whether religion hardens or softens hearts varies wildly, and the bit about enslaving minds is too vague.

    Considering that even mild statements like “Why believe in God?” put out by the AHA get a hue and cry, why not use those instead? That way, there’s a huge gap between the offense taken by the religious who protest and the innocuousness of what spurred the protest–which is what we want.

  28. #28 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    December 5, 2008
  29. #29 Davis
    December 5, 2008

    cwfong, I don’t know what “trick” you’re talking about; you explicitly said that they’re comparing Jesus to Satan, and the only reasoning you gave is that the sign is attempting to persuade Christians, and so this is how they’d take it. I merely glued together the thin explanations you gave, since you never explained your reasoning.

    But count me among heddle, FastLane, and J.J. in thinking the in-your-face nature of the sign does not reflect well on atheists. I’d much rather see positive messages in public venues, rather than ones along the lines of “your beliefs are both wrong, and harmful.”

  30. #30 cwfong
    December 5, 2008

    Davis,
    The referenced trick was to slyly insert a false premise and then seem to have “proved” your point with seemingly impeccable logic. You managed to move from the specific to the general by treating the specific instance as one of a series – which it clearly wasn’t. Socratic method trickery is much more cleverly accomplished. And what you refer to as gluing together was more like cobbling.
    If you want to lecture someone on logic, try to set a better example with your own. Think about the role that variable inference plays in human communication, rather than look for some direct mathematical connection between A,B and/orC, etc.
    In any case, the line that I initially objected to is the same one that others have since found objectionable, even though the inferences to be drawn were not necessarily the same.
    You have now joined the list, whatever the exact inference you expect would be drawn from the “in your face” Christian provocation.
    My work here may be done.

  31. #31 J. J. Ramsey
    December 5, 2008

    Davis: “But count me among heddle, FastLane, and J.J. in thinking the in-your-face nature of the sign does not reflect well on atheists.”

    It’s not the in-your-face nature that’s the problem. The AHA bus ads are in-your-face as well. It’s just that the AHA ads manage to have a gentle touch to them, even as they make their points.

  32. #32 Jason Rosenhouse
    December 5, 2008

    J.J. Ramsey –

    It’s perfectly acceptable to say that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, even though not everyone who smokes gets cancer.

    We can quibble night and day about whether that last line was wise or not (personally I don’t have a problem with it), but let’s have no illusions that the inclusion or lack of inclusion of that line is the difference between having and not having the sort of shenanigans I just finished posting about.

  33. #33 J. J. Ramsey
    December 6, 2008

    Rosenhouse: “It’s perfectly acceptable to say that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, even though not everyone who smokes gets cancer.”

    True, but your analogy fails because cigarettes never help lung health, while religion can help appeal to people’s “better angels.” To put it another way, religion is double-edged, while smoking is not.

    Rosenhouse: “let’s have no illusions that the inclusion or lack of inclusion of that line is the difference between having and not having the sort of shenanigans I just finished posting about.”

    True, but it is the difference between the opposition having the decent excuse of being outraged at something because it isn’t entirely true and being outraged at the truth. Greta Christina’s Gadfly Corollary comes to mind.

    As I’ve said before, I suppose I’m a bit sensitive, since part of my deconversion was working around atheists who (wittingly or unwittingly) passed around lies and nonsense for the sake of promoting atheism in the same fashion as Christians who pass around lies and nonsense for the sake of their own religion.

  34. #34 cwfong
    December 6, 2008

    Discovering Greta Christina makes this whole exercise worthwhile – or more worthwhile anyway.

  35. #35 Leni
    December 6, 2008

    JJ Ramsey wrote:

    True, but it is the difference between the opposition having the decent excuse of being outraged at something because it isn’t entirely true and being outraged at the truth. Greta Christina’s Gadfly Corollary comes to mind.

    I don’t see it as a statement that needs to be true for every religious individual in order to be valid.

    My guess is many, maybe even most, religious people know full well how religion can enslave the mind and harden the heart. I’m sure they’ve seen it first hand, perhaps to an even greater extent than secular types like myself who are fairly well-insulated from the religious crazies because we tend to avoid them and the places they congregate. No one is going to ostracize or malign me because I wear pants or have pre-marital sex, or because I’m LBGT (I’m not- it’s just an example). Yet this kind of cruelty and thoughtlessness is heaped upon believers without a second thought, on a daily basis in churches and households across the country.

    So it’s not as if the statement is “not entirely true”. Rather, it’s exactly true often enough to make it worth saying, particularly because of the hurt that kind of mean-spiritedness can inflict, both on individuals and on the wider community.

    In the gadfly scenario, Greta is specifically referring to people who are wrong, but assume they are right because they piss people off. I don’t see that as being what the sign is about. The fact that it might piss some people off is incidental, and is secondary to what justifies its presence in the public sphere.

    I did like really her post, though.

  36. #36 cwfong
    December 6, 2008

    Leni, that’s just ridiculous and childish. You’re advocating a public pissing contest because intentionally or otherwise, the Christians piss some people off, and therefor they should be pissed on whenever they show their heads (pun not initially intended), regardless of intent.

    But then, we know what your sign would say.

  37. #37 Leni
    December 6, 2008

    What’s that, cwfong? I can’t see your comment because I kill-filed this particular sockpuppet of yours some time ago.

    You should try using my name to post again. That worked out so well for you last time.

  38. #38 J. J. Ramsey
    December 6, 2008

    My guess is many, maybe even most, religious people know full well how religion can enslave the mind and harden the heart.

    First off, define what the heck you mean by enslaving a mind. “Enslave minds” looks provocative because of the connotations of the word “enslave,” but its denotation is woefully unclear.

    As for hardening hearts, since religion has been on its face a factor in both hardening and softening hearts, and its apparent effects in doing so vary wildly, maybe the whole hardening hearts things is at best contingent on the particulars of a religion rather than a core issue with religion itself, which makes the statement “Religion hardens hearts” a half-truth.

    Take the case of the stance of theologically conservative Christians in general on gays, and the position of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) on gays. Now they read the same verses in the Bible about gays and come to the same conclusions about gays. Yet while the WBC in general is obviously hard-hearted, the stances of conservatives are a more mixed bag, with a lot of them reviling the WBC, talking of loving the sinner and hating the sin, saying that homosexuality is no worse than sins like greed that all Christians routinely experience, etc. Furthermore, other verses in the Bible which theologically conservative Christians also often take seriously, about loving one’s neighbor, etc., limit the extent to which the anti-gay verses can lead to a hardening of hearts. You start looking more closely and it gets messy. To simply say that “Religion hardens hearts” is to oversimplify.

    In the gadfly scenario, Greta is specifically referring to people who are wrong, but assume they are right because they piss people off.

    That’s only half the story of the gadfly scenario. The other half is that the gadfly is thinking more in terms of being provocative than being correct, and so they end up thinking more about pissing people off then about making sure that when people are pissed off, they are pissed off only for the wrong reasons. As it stands, there are both good and bad reasons to be pissed at Dan Barker–which wouldn’t be the case if Barker had been more careful. (Incidentally, Barker screwed the pooch even worse–way worse–by calling the nativity scene “hate speech.”)

  39. #39 cwfong
    December 6, 2008

    Leni, if you can read this, you’re too close.

  40. #40 cwfong
    December 7, 2008

    J.J., you are assuming too much when you expect ennielay to understand intelligent and non-emotional driven commentary.

  41. #41 mirc
    December 7, 2008

    Oh, I get it. Ennielay is Anylay!

  42. #42 Leni
    December 7, 2008

    JJ wrote:

    First off, define what the heck you mean by enslaving a mind. “Enslave minds” looks provocative because of the connotations of the word “enslave,” but its denotation is woefully unclear.

    It’s not my sign, so I can only guess what their intent is, but I’ll offer a few examples:

    * Biblical literalism that rejects any idea or practice not “verifiable” or sanctioned in scripture.

    * The burden of guilt a lot of evangelicals feel over not saving every single person they come in contact with. And the resulting constant need to proselytize. Even when it is unwelcome, inappropriate, annoying and a burden for the person doing the evangelizing.

    * The notion that many devout women have that they must be subservient to their husbands. PZ recently posted a link to a wretched blog post written by a black women who used the bible to justify the morality of slavery. She, and several of her commenters, happily referred to themselves as slaves. Slaves to Jesus, slaves to their husbands. They did this over the protestations of other posters, both religious and not.

    * The concept of Hell itself is a kind of trap. The fear and depression people feel over this idea is not trivial, and I would imagine, especially once released from it, that enslavement would not be the worst analogy one could think of to describe the experience.

    I don’t think the concept is really all that difficult to grasp, and I didn’t even cover the worst parts of it. Like the Catholic church refusing to recognize most divorces, or the cult like adherence to dogma in the most ridiculous churches, or the mental abuse heaped on children, who are indeed trapped, by parents who constantly tell them they were born bad and can not be good without Jesus.

    I don’t think you really need this explanation, and all of this stuff is as common as dirt.

    As for hardening hearts, since religion has been on its face a factor in both hardening and softening hearts, and its apparent effects in doing so vary wildly, maybe the whole hardening hearts things is at best contingent on the particulars of a religion rather than a core issue with religion itself, which makes the statement “Religion hardens hearts” a half-truth.

    Or, it something that’s true enough of the time to make it worth mentioning. This is a sign, not a dissertation.

    Take the case of the stance of theologically conservative Christians in general on gays, and the position of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) on gays. Now they read the same verses in the Bible about gays and come to the same conclusions about gays. Yet while the WBC in general is obviously hard-hearted, the stances of conservatives are a more mixed bag, with a lot of them reviling the WBC, talking of loving the sinner and hating the sin, saying that homosexuality is no worse than sins like greed that all Christians routinely experience, etc. Furthermore, other verses in the Bible which theologically conservative Christians also often take seriously, about loving one’s neighbor, etc., limit the extent to which the anti-gay verses can lead to a hardening of hearts. You start looking more closely and it gets messy. To simply say that “Religion hardens hearts” is to oversimplify.

    Again, it’s a sign. The Nativity scene is pretty oversimplified too. And if it limited the extent to which hearts get hardened, please explain to us why constitutional amendments banning gay marriage pass with such ease almost anywhere they come up, and why the only significant opposition to it is either explicitly or implicitly religious.

    Aside from that, the relative improvements in acceptance for gays did not come about from a spontaneous reworking in theology. That came about after the actions of LBGT people who have put a personal face on their situations. They told us how the bigotry affects them, they came out to their neighbors and families and challenged the rest of us to rise to the occasion. Some of us did. I’m glad some Christians are better about it now, but I am not going to credit the church for what is largely the accomplishment of the LBGT community, and for doing what any decent person would.

    That’s only half the story of the gadfly scenario. The other half is that the gadfly is thinking more in terms of being provocative than being correct…

    But it is correct, much of the time and in a wide variety of situations. Again, correct enough to make it worth saying (even if you think it’s over-simplified) primarily because results of their “hard-heartedness” is not immaterial. If you don’t believe me, try asking gay couples in states with SSM bans what they think about the “hard hearts” of their neighbors.

    Or you could ask the large numbers of Americans who would not even consider voting for an atheist or a Muslim, or who reject human evolution for religious reason. It’s probably all the same people, so that should make your task that much easier.

    As it stands, there are both good and bad reasons to be pissed at Dan Barker–which wouldn’t be the case if Barker had been more careful. (Incidentally, Barker screwed the pooch even worse–way worse–by calling the nativity scene “hate speech.”)

    I just watched the Fox News with him on it, and it was stupid of him to call a Nativity scene hate speech.

    Nevertheless, I think there’s some truth to his point. Displaying the symbols of a religion whose adherents often insist that non-adherents will be spending eternity getting in Hell is not exactly the friendliest or most inclusive message to send either. I’m guessing that is a large part of what the “hard hearts” remark was referring to. Again though, I don’t see “pissing people off” being offered as the justification for the display.

  43. #43 cwfong
    December 7, 2008

    Who decides when a half-truth is correct enough to make what is essentially a lie worth saying?

  44. #44 Caliban
    December 7, 2008

    Only lies need defending by sock-puppeting trolls.

    You’re still not fooling anyone.

  45. #45 J. J. Ramsey
    December 7, 2008

    Leni: “It’s not my sign, so I can only guess what their intent is”

    That’s the problem in a nutshell. You shouldn’t have to guess, period. As it stands, there is little point in debating your examples because it isn’t clear what they are examples of, aside from simply being examples of false beliefs leading to maladaptive feelings and behaviors. To put it bluntly, if you have to guess at what “enslaving minds” is supposed to mean, then that’s a pretty clear sign that the phrase is as meaningless as “support the troops.”

    Leni: “Or, it something that’s true enough of the time to make it worth mentioning.”

    It is also false enough to invite obvious objections, such as the work of MLK.

    Leni: “This is a sign, not a dissertation.”

    Then the obvious solution is to only put on the sign things for which there is a clear case and leave out what is half-true or vacuous. In short, leave out the last line.

  46. #46 Leni
    December 7, 2008

    If you didn’t want examples (and I think those were pretty clear ones), then why did you ask?

    I’m telling you what I think they mean, but I’m not a mind reader. I don’t necessarily know what the point of a Nativity scene is either, that doesn’t mean I can’t make some educated and perfectly reasonable guesses. I imagine it means different things to different people for different reasons.

    It is also false enough to invite obvious objections, such as the work of MLK.

    I wonder how many people consider/ed him a gadfly- pissing people off and using generalities and religious appeals that were only applicable part of the time to some of the people. (Oh yeah, I am totally sticking my tongue out at the monitor.)

  47. #47 J. J. Ramsey
    December 8, 2008

    Leni: “If you didn’t want examples (and I think those were pretty clear ones), then why did you ask?”

    I didn’t ask for examples, I asked you to define what you meant.

    Leni: “I wonder how many people consider/ed him a gadfly- pissing people off and using generalities and religious appeals that were only applicable part of the time to some of the people. (Oh yeah, I am totally sticking my tongue out at the monitor.)”

    Sticking your tongue out and missing the point entirely, which is that his work is an example of religion being used to soften hearts. As you yourself noted, he used religious appeals.

  48. #48 Caliban
    December 8, 2008

    I did not post the above comment.

    Jason, when are you going to ban this asinine little troll?

  49. #49 Greg Esres
    December 8, 2008

    the in-your-face nature of the sign does not reflect well on atheists.

    I’m not sure that matters. The public-at-large doesn’t think well of atheists anyway.

    Atheists more often take the ‘high road’ in comparison to theists, but I don’t see that it does any good, other than giving us a sense of moral superiority. I think it’s about time we start using our elbows to make room for ourselves at the conference table.

    Respect to atheists will only be given when we’ve demanded it.

  50. #50 Greg Esres
    December 8, 2008

    Whether or not we’ve earned it?

    You earn it by demanding it, you don’t earn it by being a nice guy. “Nice” means “weak” and atheists as a group are very, very weak.

  51. #51 Leni
    December 8, 2008

    JJ wrote:

    I didn’t ask for examples, I asked you to define what you meant.

    The concept isn’t that difficult to grasp. I explained what I thought the sign meant using clear and easy to understand examples. I don’t see it as a problem that different people might get different things out of it, or that it might piss some people off. Whatever you say, pissing people off is not the justification for it’s presence even if it happens to do that some of the time.

    I’m not going to “define” what they meant when they wrote the sign because I am not a mind reader. I can only tell you what I think it means and the best way to do that, in my opinion, was to offer examples of everyday occurrences that make it plain why the sentiment is valid.

    Sticking your tongue out and missing the point entirely, which is that his work is an example of religion being used to soften hearts. As you yourself noted, he used religious appeals.

    I didn’t miss your point, JJ, I know full well that Civil Rights leaders often couched their arguments in terms of religious appeals. But so did the “bad guys”. The significant difference is that Civil Rights proponents have valid legal, moral, and practical arguments to back up their religious arguments. The bad guys, then as much as now, had little more than tradition, self-serving convention and outright appeals to fear.

    As such, I think giving religion credit for the work of Civil Rights leaders does their sacrifice, courage, and intelligence a great disservice. Not because they could use religious appeals as effectively as the bad guys, but because they knew better than to stop there.

  52. #52 J. J. Ramsey
    December 8, 2008

    Leni: “I’m not going to ‘define’ what they meant when they wrote the sign because I am not a mind reader.”

    You don’t have to read minds, just words. If you “can only guess” the intent of the sign’s authors, then the sign wasn’t that clear. Barker should have left the vacuous pseudoplatitudes to the opposition, not put one of them on his own sign.

    Leni: “The significant difference is that Civil Rights proponents have valid legal, moral, and practical arguments to back up their religious arguments.”

    It’s not a significant difference with regards to the question of whether religion can soften as well as harden hearts. It’s also not a question of “giving religion credit” as opposed to giving credit to the civil rights leaders, but rather acknowledging the role that it played in the motivations of these leaders.

    If you are serious about letting reason prevail, then your rejection of religion should be reality-based. The reality is that religion is not like some Snidely Whiplash-type villain, but a messy phenomenon with its good and bad sides. If you want to argue that religion is still bad, even when the good is taken into account, that’s more than fine, but leave the half-truths to the opposition.

  53. #53 J. J. Ramsey
    December 8, 2008

    Greg Esres: “‘Nice’ means ‘weak’”

    Except when it doesn’t. Spare us the oversimplifications.

  54. #54 Leni
    December 9, 2008

    You don’t have to read minds, just words.

    Which I did, and then illustrated why it’s a valid criticism with practical, everyday examples.

    It’s not a significant difference with regards to the question of whether religion can soften as well as harden hearts.

    I think it is. It speaks to why the sign makes a valuable point, and why it isn’t singularly justified by the lone fact that it pisses some people off.

    If you want to argue that religion is still bad, even when the good is taken into account, that’s more than fine…

    I agree. So if someone makes a sign saying that it is in aggregate not a good thing, you needn’t have a problem with it.

  55. #55 cwfong
    December 9, 2008

    I signify that in aggregate you are potty mouthed, irritating, intemperate, and shifty. Do you have a problem with that?

  56. #56 J. J. Ramsey
    December 9, 2008

    Leni: “Which I did, and then illustrated why it’s a valid criticism with practical, everyday examples.”

    But you admitted that you didn’t know what the sign writer meant by “enslaves minds,” or more precisely, that you “could only guess.” You don’t have to guess about the meaning of the statement, “Religion is but myth and superstition.” Even if one disagrees with the statement, it’s a clear enough statement to be the subject of a debate.

    Also tellingly, your examples are thoroughly contingent on the particulars of one religion, rather than examples of problems inherent in religion in general. Of course, my examples on the other side are contingent as well … but that’s kind of the point. That’s the reason that religion is such a moral mixed bag in the first place. Aside from the really basic moral stuff, such as limits on the extent of lying and stealing and killing, there isn’t much agreement on the moral rules, even within a religion. Note that the very diversity of religions, while weakening a statement like “religion hardens hearts,” actually strengthens a statement like “there are no gods.” If there were a god or gods, one could reasonably expect far more consensus on what they were like. It is far easier to make clear statements on the truth of religion than its moral standing.

  57. #57 Leni
    December 9, 2008

    But you admitted that you didn’t know what the sign writer meant by “enslaves minds,” or more precisely, that you “could only guess.”

    I also admitted that I don’t know what lurks in the minds of the nativity scene proponents. I’m guessing it’s more than one thing, but if they had something particular in mind I wouldn’t know what that was.

    That doesn’t mean we can’t make reasonable guesses, or “get the idea”. After all, you understood it well enough to take issue with it, correct? And you didn’t just take issue with it being unclear, you took issue with it being incorrect. I presume you would not have done that if you didn’t or couldn’t understand the statement.

    You don’t have to guess about the meaning of the statement, “Religion is but myth and superstition.” Even if one disagrees with the statement, it’s a clear enough statement to be the subject of a debate.

    And yet you are able to debate the veracity of the other, less clear statement.

    Also tellingly, your examples are thoroughly contingent on the particulars of one religion, rather than examples of problems inherent in religion in general.

    First, not all of the examples are thoroughly contingent on one religion. The example of women being ordered by by their god/s to be subservient to their husbands or males in general is disturbingly common. I gave you a single unpleasant instance of it, but it is by no means a phenomenon exclusive to or contingent upon one particular religion.

    Second, any reasonably well-informed person could make the connection to similar instances in other religion if they so chose to, and could do so with very little difficulty.

    Third, I suppose I could have reached into several religious grab bags of insanity, but it didn’t seem necessary. I picked ones that I am most familiar with, but that certainly doesn’t mean the examples end there or that I couldn’t find other, probably even more frightening examples from other religions:

    * Several female students in Afghanistan were attacked by adult men on their way to school. They had acid thrown in their faces. Because they were going to school.

    * The Taliban.

    * Children in Africa accused of being witches and suffering tortures and unimaginable abuse that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy, much less a child.

    * The caste system in India.

    Do you really need me to continue?

    Listen, if you like, I could have a go at the more general case. I don’t see why we should bother, since you could figure this out at least as easily as I can, but let’s take a shot at it, for *fun*. (This is, of course, with the caveat that I do not speak for the people who wrote the sign. They may have had something particular in mind that I haven’t thought of (or enumerated to your specifications).

    Religion has the peculiar property and (usually) the necessary moral, social, and sometimes legal authority of giving justification to nearly any idea a dreamed up by a believer. I suppose you could call that a mixed moral bag, but the fact that most of us take it for granted that we need to draw our core ideals from that bag, or that other bags only come out of that bag, is a kind of mental enslavement.

    If we think we need to find justification in that particular bag for everything, good or bad, then I think it’s at least fair, if hyperbolic, to call that mental enslavement.

    Now, you couple those peculiarities of religion with the very common notion that being on sound religious ground automatically makes something *good* and what you have is a circle of self-reinforcing, positive feedback loop bullshit, for good or bad (whatever those might be). It’s an obligatory and self-justifying litmus test. As I said before, MLK might have used religious rhetoric, he might have used his connections and experience as a minister, but he was smart enough to know that wasn’t sufficient.

    Now, before you lecture me on being over-simplistic, bear in mind that this is simply one way. There are probably others, both ones I can think of and surely ones I that I can not. The litmus test is just the most obvious and most common.

  58. #58 J. J. Ramsey
    December 10, 2008

    Leni: “That doesn’t mean we can’t make reasonable guesses, or ‘get the idea’. After all, you understood it well enough to take issue with it, correct?”

    I understand that “enslave” is a word with nasty connotations. That doesn’t mean that I think that “enslaves minds” has any actual meaning. It just sounds bad and awful without actually saying anything useful, sort of the way that “support the troops” sounds warm and patriotic without meaning a whole heck of a lot, either. I also understand that a statement of the form “Religion verbs” is a general statement about religion, even if I don’t know what “verbs” means.

    Leni: “And yet you are able to debate the veracity of the other, less clear statement.”

    I’m not debating its veracity. I’m debating whether it even makes sense. And you have been dancing around this, throwing up examples of bad religious behavior, as if this establishes anything more than that people have behaved badly under the banners of various religions. As a mode of argument, it’s dirty pool, using emotive examples to try to sway the audience, while keeping your opposition from having a clear line of attack by being vague about what you are trying to demonstrate. The very vagueness of your proposition makes it unclear even whether it is relevant if the emotive examples are a representative sample.

    Leni: “First, not all of the examples are thoroughly contingent on one religion….any reasonably well-informed person could make the connection to similar instances in other religion if they so chose to”

    Really? Let’s look at your examples more closely:

    * Biblical literalism. Strictly speaking, limited to Christianity and Judaism. To extend this to other religions, one would need to establish that these religions treat their holy books as Christians and Jews do theirs. And not all religions even have holy books, let alone ones analogous to the Bible.

    * Evangelical guilt. Very specific to missionary religions, which are relatively few.

    * Subservience of women. Now this one is nearly culturally universal. On the other hand, this probably has evolved more from practical issues like women being more vulnerable when pregnant, and is probably older than religion. Judging from the behavior of, say, elephant seals, it’s older than humans.

    * Hell. This isn’t even close to being universal among religions.

    So most of your examples are contingent on the random ways that various religions have turned out, and the one example that is universal isn’t that religious. How are these largely non-representative examples supposed to tell us what religion in general does, whatever it does?

  59. #59 Leni
    December 10, 2008

    I noticed that you skipped over the part where I offered what I think is probably the most common, and most obvious example of mental enslavement and went straight back to complaining about the examples I gave, which I already covered when I said:

    Second, any reasonably well-informed person could make the connection to similar instances in other religion if they so chose to, and could do so with very little difficulty.

    Third, I suppose I could have reached into several religious grab bags of insanity, but it didn’t seem necessary. I picked ones that I am most familiar with, but that certainly doesn’t mean the examples end there or that I couldn’t find other, probably even more frightening examples from other religions…

    Further, I wouldn’t expect the problem to manifest itself in exactly the same way in every religion, or even in various individuals within a given religion. For the Scientologists, it might be psychiatry, for some Christians, it’s gay rights, for some Muslims, it’s apostasy, for some Buddhists, it’s women’s rights, for some Hindus it’s class subjugation. And so on.

    You seem to think that means religion isn’t the problem. Yet you seem unable to concede that religion has a special place of authority and legitimacy for most people. It may not have caused the problems per se, but it is there to reinforce them every step of the way. And if it isn’t one thing, it’s certainly another. Even among people who support your prime example, MLK. There’s probably enough anti-gay bullshit there there to power several dozen of those newfangled manure power plants.

    Although, I imagine if that were really the case you’d be here to remind us that religion isn’t all that bad :)

    Back to you now:

    I’m not debating its veracity.

    You called it a half-truth. I’d say that’s debating it’s veracity.

    Biblical literalism. Strictly speaking, limited to Christianity and Judaism. To extend this to other religions, one would need to establish that these religions treat their holy books as Christians and Jews do theirs. And not all religions even have holy books, let alone ones analogous to the Bible.

    But they do make propositions, describe the universe etc. Believers generally adhere to those tenets and ideas, often at the expense of better explanations. In fact, maybe even usually. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out that the same would be true if they, you know, wrote it all down.

    Subservience of women. Now this one is nearly culturally universal. On the other hand, this probably has evolved more from practical issues like women being more vulnerable when pregnant, and is probably older than religion.

    It’s nearly ubiquitous in human cultures and far more often than not coupled with a religious code to enforce it, often brutally. So bullshit it “isn’t all that religious.” It’s written right into the religious laws and tenets of at least ~70% of the planet’s believers!*

    Remember what you said about leaving the half-truths to the opposition? Now is the time to take your own advice.

    Besides that, I’m not questioning when female oppression began or insisting that it doesn’t have evolutionary roots. I’m pointing out the role that religion plays in perpetuating and reinforcing it.

    * I’m being generous here, because I don’t feel like digging into every obscure religion, nor do I feel like perusing the anthropology literature to find out about the ones who don’t normally write things down. But I would bet my pants that it’s at least a good 15% higher than that.

  60. #60 Caliban
    December 10, 2008

    It seems religious apologists never tire of telling us how things like homophobia, creationism, and the usual host of backward, anti-science beliefs are never “representational” of religion.

    I guess the majority of religious believers in America who subscribe to things like creationism, rewriting their State constitutions to forbid gay marriage, belief in a literal Hell and the Devil, etc. aren’t representational of religion either even though they outnumber their more liberal counterparts.

  61. #61 J. J. Ramsey
    December 11, 2008

    Leni: “I noticed that you skipped over the part where I offered what I think is probably the most common, and most obvious example of mental enslavement”

    Did it occur to you that I found none of those examples adequate or obvious? I have kept harping on the point that the examples are useless for explaining the meaning of the phrase “enslaves minds” in the absence of an actual definition of the phrase. Not only have you failed to define what you mean–or more to the point, what Dan Barker meant–but you even conceded that you couldn’t do it because you couldn’t read the sign writer’s mind. Mind-reading wouldn’t be an issue if the sign’s meaning were clear.

    Leni: “You called it a half-truth. I’d say that’s debating it’s veracity.”

    I said that the statement “Religion hardens hearts” is a half-truth, which is separate from the statement “Religion enslaves minds” which is vacuous.

    Leni: “You seem to think that means religion isn’t the problem.”

    I think that religion is a problem because religious beliefs are generally poorly founded, and because of that, are often incorrect. The reasons for the poor founding have to do in part with what our brains have evolved to find plausible, with confirmation bias, and so on. One catch is that the poor founding by its nature tends to lead to wildly differing conclusions, especially in the details of beliefs, so it is problematic to look at the details of a few religions and say that they are representative. Also, the wide variance in religious beliefs has led to beliefs both benign, dangerous, and various places in between. That hardly is a favorable view of religion, but it rules out the vision of religion as a Snidley-Whiplash-type evil.

    Leni: “I don’t feel like digging into every obscure religion, nor do I feel like perusing the anthropology literature to find out about the ones who don’t normally write things down.”

    That’s why people like Pascal Boyer and Scott Atran write books. They go through the anthropology literature and do their own anthropological research, and laymen like us can read their work.

    Leni: “It’s nearly ubiquitous in human cultures and far more often than not coupled with a religious code to enforce it, often brutally.”

    If you haven’t read the literature, or at least a review of it, how do you know that the “far more often than not” bit is true, or just a perception due to confirmation bias?

  62. #62 Caliban
    December 11, 2008

    J.J. If you have no idea what the phrases “x hardens hearts” or “x enslaves minds” means, then how can you claim it is a half-truth?

    Reading your posts, you seem to be saying that you have no idea what these phrases are meant to convey. If i’m wrong about this, why don’t you tell us what you think the phrases mean?

    If the example of supporting Prop 8 does not qualify as an example of “hardening hearts” or “enslaving minds” than what would?

    Is it wrong to say on a billboard that smoking causes cancer? If your logic is applied here, you can’t. What percentage of smokers getting cancer is sufficient for you to be able to claim that smoking causes cancer? And is this percentage higher or lower than the amount of religious people who support such measures as Prop 8?

  63. #63 J. J. Ramsey
    December 11, 2008

    Caliban: “J.J. If you have no idea what the phrases ‘x hardens hearts’ or ‘x enslaves minds’ means, then how can you claim it is a half-truth?”

    I suggest that you try reading what I actually wrote. It makes understanding so much easier. From a much earlier post:

    “whether religion hardens or softens hearts varies wildly, and the bit about enslaving minds is too vague.”

    From my last post:

    “I said that the statement ‘Religion hardens hearts’ is a half-truth, which is separate from the statement ‘Religion enslaves minds’ which is vacuous.”

    How hard can it possibly have been to notice that I treated “Religion hardens hearts” and “Religion enslaves minds” as separate claims, and only claimed that one of them is vacuous, namely the latter. Pay attention!

    Caliban: “If the example of supporting Prop 8 does not qualify as an example of ‘hardening hearts’ or ‘enslaving minds’ than what would?”

    Again, pay attention. Since I claimed that “Religion hardens hearts” was a half-truth, pointing to the evidence that points to its partial truth, like Prop. 8, is not useful. As I also pointed out, since “enslaves minds” is ill-defined, what constitutes an example of enslaving a mind is similarly ill-defined.

    Caliban: “Is it wrong to say on a billboard that smoking causes cancer?”

    Sheesh, Caliban, have you been following this at all? Again, Rosenhouse tried to make the same point, and I already answered him:

    “your analogy fails because cigarettes never help lung health, while religion can help appeal to people’s ‘better angels.’ To put it another way, religion is double-edged, while smoking is not.”

  64. #64 Caliban
    December 11, 2008

    JJ, Weather or not smoking has positive health affects is irreverent in determining weather or not it is fair to say that “smoking causes cancer”. However, does smoking reduce anxiety? Does it help loose weight? Does it not produce “goodness” in the form of employing thousands of people to harvest and manufacture the crops?

    It seems to me that the best method of determining weather or not it’s fair to say that “smoking causes cancer” is if the evidence concludes that it does so in a statistically significant number of smokers.

    Likewise, if more than half of the self-identified religious population in this country subscribe to things that can easily be lumped into the categories of “enslaves minds” (biblical literalism, creationism, forced prayer in schools, etc) and “hardens hearts”(homophobia, misogyny, childhood indoctrination, etc), then i don’t see your objections to this as anything more than arbitrary contrariness.

    I don’t agree that “enslaving minds” is vacuous in the context of the sign. I think it’s pretty clear what kinds of mental enslavement occur within religion. Many examples have already been provided. If this is still vacuous to you, then fine, feel free to beat that drum, but don’t expect others in fall into step unless you can show how these examples don’t count as evidence. Merely pointing out exceptions does not nullify the examples, especially if those examples are dominant (or close to it) in our country’s religious culture.

    The sign is just a billboard after all, it’s not an essay. Do religious believers behave in a statistically significant way to what the sign claims? Of course they do. That’s not to say that all religious people do, but enough of them do that it’s a fair statement to make.

  65. #65 J. J. Ramsey
    December 11, 2008

    Caliban: “Weather or not smoking has positive health affects is irreverent in determining weather or not it is fair to say that ‘smoking causes cancer’.”

    Let me put it another way, just to make it clearer. If smoking had both effects that retarded and promoted cancer, depending on the circumstances, then the statement “Smoking causes cancer” would be a blatant half-truth. That’s a pretty good analog for how religion works on hearts.

    Caliban: “It seems to me that the best method of determining weather or not it’s fair to say that ‘smoking causes cancer’ is if the evidence concludes that it does so in a statistically significant number of smokers.”

    Cigarettes have variations, but they still have the same active ingredient, tobacco, and the way they deliver tobacco smoke to the lungs is pretty much the same. Religions, on the other hand, not only have a variety of forms, but a variety of contradicting forms. The similarities are pretty general: supernatural agents, rituals, and … well, not much else. To make general statements about religion–as Dan Barker’s sign does–you have to ensure that the effects that you contend are due to religion in and of itself, and not of the particulars of various manifestations of it. That complicates any statistical study of religion in general, and to a degree that an analogous study of smoking does not have.

    Caliban: “‘hardens hearts’(homophobia, misogyny, childhood indoctrination, etc)”

    None of the above examples are universal, so using them as examples of what religion in general does is faulty. The Greek pagans were fine with homosexuality. As for misogyny, again it varies widely, and even conservative Christians, I can quote Ephesians 5:21, which often gets overlooked when wifely submission is discussed. Ephesians 5:33 also isn’t exactly an encouragement to harden hearts to with. (Heck, while I’m mentioning Ephesians, I can point out that 6:9 is another overlooked verse, honored by slavemasters in the breach than in the observance.) “Childhood indoctrination” isn’t even a good example of heart hardening, since depending on how children are brought up, they may become more or less sensitive to others’ suffering.

    Caliban: “I don’t agree that ‘enslaving minds’ is vacuous in the context of the sign.”

    Then you should be able to provide a clear definition, then, shouldn’t you?

    Caliban: “Do religious believers behave in a statistically significant way to what the sign claims? Of course they do.”

    And I’m sure that you can cite literature to support that conclusion, right? Who knows, maybe you can even quote a working definition of mental enslavement from the literature. :)

  66. #66 Caliban
    December 11, 2008

    JJ, your breakdown of the smoking analogy is good, but i don’t see it’s correlation in Dan’s sign being invalidated by it. Primarily, because i see it being more correct, most of the time, than not. If fundamentalists and evangelicals and the rest of thier ilk constitued a mere 2% of the populace say, i would be inclined to agree with you. Obviously, such is not the case.

    As for the defintion of “mental slavery” i don’t think it’s difficult for you or any other intelligent person to arrive at something we can all recognise. But, for the record, something along the lines of “an indoctrinated system of dogmatic beliefs that puts obedience to dogma and authority over individual conscience and expression” would be good enough for me. I’m sure they are plenty of other ad-hoc definitions that would also be suitable.

    And as for literature citing my conclusions, i have to say come on man. You’ve been around Science Blogs long enough to have been exposed to such evidence in the form of Pew polls and numerous other studies that i honestly can’t beleive that you would have no idea why i would be making this claim.

    Plus, i’m at work and not feeling particularly motivated to go on a google cut & paste search. Suffice to say, i think you know perfectly well the sorts of data i’m reffering to.
    And, yes, i am guilty of laziness on this point right now.

  67. #67 J. J. Ramsey
    December 11, 2008

    Hmm, when I wrote the above comment, I walked away from it partway through to get supper, so there are some editing screw ups. I think that you can figure out most of them, but “even conservative Christians, I can quote” should read “to even conservative Christians, I can quote.”

  68. #68 J. J. Ramsey
    December 11, 2008

    Caliban:

    As for the defintion of “mental slavery” i don’t think it’s difficult for you or any other intelligent person to arrive at something we can all recognise. But, for the record, something along the lines of “an indoctrinated system of dogmatic beliefs that puts obedience to dogma and authority over individual conscience and expression” would be good enough for me. I’m sure they are plenty of other ad-hoc definitions that would also be suitable.

    That’s a reasonable definition of “mental slavery,” and possibly close to what Dan Barker had in mind. Trouble is, once you take into account religions other than the Abrahamic ones, the idea of religion being a system of beliefs, let alone dogmatic ones, breaks down. I recommend Pascal Boyer’s book Religion Explained if you want to see a broader survey of religion. A lot of the things that you take for granted as being a part of religion are fairly particular to what you see in the Western world. Even within the Western world, you have a problem in that the authority is pretty weak, generally with a small minority that is devout and a much larger group of nominal believers.

    And as for literature citing my conclusions, i have to say come on man. You’ve been around Science Blogs long enough to have been exposed to such evidence in the form of Pew polls and numerous other studies that i honestly can’t beleive that you would have no idea why i would be making this claim.

    Yes, being on Scienceblogs means that I have plenty of ideas why you’d make the claims that you do, and it also makes me skeptical that you can back them up. For example, the post “Does Religion Make You Meaner or Nicer? Inquiring Minds, Etc.” on Mixing Memory points to two studies that would tend to answer the question “Does religion harden or soften hearts?” in two opposite ways. There is plenty of rhetoric on Scienceblogs about how eeeeeevil religion is, while the empirical studies appear to show more of a mixed bag.

  69. #69 Caliban
    December 11, 2008

    JJ, A very quick search yielded the following from the Pew Research Forum:

    This is evidence of mental slavery:

    “Indeed, according to a 2006 survey from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 42% of Americans reject the notion that life on earth evolved and believe instead that humans and other living things have always existed in their present form. Among white evangelical Protestants – many of whom regard the Bible as the inerrant word of God – 65% hold this view. Moreover, in the same poll, 21% of those surveyed say that although life has evolved, these changes were guided by a supreme being. Only a minority, about a quarter (26%) of respondents, say that they accept evolution through natural processes or natural selection alone.”

    “When asked what they would do if scientists were to disprove a particular religious belief, nearly two-thirds (64%) of people say they would continue to hold to what their religion teaches rather than accept the contrary scientific finding, according to the results of an October 2006 Time magazine poll. Indeed, in a May 2007 Gallup poll, only 14% of those who say they do not believe in evolution cite lack of evidence as the main reason underpinning their views; more people cite their belief in Jesus (19%), God (16%) or religion generally (16%) as their reason for rejecting Darwin’s theory.”

    The unwillingness to change one’s views despite scientific evidence to the contrary can easily be seen as a symptom of religious indoctrination or, as the sign says, mental slavery.

    As for the hardening of hearts, (why do i have to keep posting this information over and over again?) the fact that Prop 8 passed in, of all places, California; and has passed by much larger margins where ever it crops up (including my own state of Wisconsin) should be evidence enough of religious dogma hardening hearts.

  70. #70 J. J. Ramsey
    December 12, 2008

    Caliban: “The unwillingness to change one’s views despite scientific evidence to the contrary can easily be seen as a symptom of religious indoctrination or, as the sign says, mental slavery.”

    The unwillingness to change one’s views despite evidence is a human flaw, period, religions or no religion. I notice, too, that you’ve changed your working definition of “mental slavery” to now mean a refusal to relinquish deeply held beliefs. Such refusal is lamentable, but its relationship to slavery is strained. This is the sort of shell game that leads me to write off “enslaves minds” as a useless phrase.

    Caliban: “As for the hardening of hearts, (why do i have to keep posting this information over and over again?)”

    Because you keep misunderstanding the point. If I say that “Religion hardens hearts” is a half-truth, then obviously I expect that instances exist where various religions have led to hardened hearts, and that these instances only tell half the story. Repeating this half of the story doesn’t really rebut the contention that “Religion hardens hearts” is a half-truth, now does it?

  71. #71 Caliban
    December 12, 2008

    “The unwillingness to change one’s views despite evidence is a human flaw, period, religions or no religion.”

    That’s a half-truth. Not everyone acts this way. And certainly not all the time. You’re ignoring everyone who doesn’t act this way. Do you have any evidence to back up this claim?

    Gee, i notice it’s sunny today. Well, now that i think of it, i better not mention that to anyone as it would be a half-truth as it’s not sunny in New Zealand right now.

    I guess i can’t say that smoking causes cancer either, because that’s also a half-truth and only tells one side of the story.

    etc, etc,

  72. #72 J. J. Ramsey
    December 12, 2008

    Me: “The unwillingness to change one’s views despite evidence is a human flaw, period, religions or no religion.”

    Caliban: “That’s a half-truth. Not everyone acts this way. And certainly not all the time.”

    Even people who are unwilling to do something may end up doing it, just not very easily. More to the point, there is a vast difference between a generalization with rare exceptions and a generalization that affirms one side of a question on which, to quote Jonathan Haidt, the evidence is an “ambiguous dataset from which it is so easy to cherry-pick evidence in favor of one’s desired conclusion.”

    Caliban: “Gee, i notice it’s sunny today. Well, now that i think of it, i better not mention that to anyone as it would be a half-truth as it’s not sunny in New Zealand right now.”

    This is even sillier, since it is common knowledge that weather is local, and that the comment “It’s sunny today” is about the local weather.

    Caliban: “I guess i can’t say that smoking causes cancer either, because that’s also a half-truth and only tells one side of the story.”

    Sigh … I dealt with this already.

  73. #73 Caliban
    December 12, 2008

    JJ, It is fair for the critic of religion to spotlight the harm religion causes just as it is fair for the religious apologist to spotlight the good religion causes. Both spotlights have large stores of valid evidence to draw from.

    Every critique of religion does not have to provide an obligatory counter weight for the good it has done and vice-versa. The evidence for the harm religion causes does not invalidate the evidence for the good.

    The harm religion causes and the good it causes are two separate issues. The good done by religion is not a “half-truth” and neither is the harm it causes.

    As for the specific language of the sign, anyone with an 8th grade reading level should be able to infer the intent. Demanding definitions for them is just insufferably obsequious. You know damn well what they mean.

    And finally, i don’t know how you can think that creationism isn’t a symptom of mental slavery. It’s a direct product of dogmatic indoctrination.

  74. #74 J. J. Ramsey
    December 12, 2008

    Caliban: “JJ, It is fair for the critic of religion to spotlight the harm religion causes”

    And it is also fair for the critic of religion to not overreach and make dodgy generalizations.

    Caliban: “The good done by religion is not a ‘half-truth’”

    But the statement “Religion softens hearts,” with no qualifications, would be. Fair is fair.

    Caliban: “As for the specific language of the sign, anyone with an 8th grade reading level should be able to infer the intent.”

    Yet Leni didn’t want to give a definition of “enslaves minds” on the grounds that he/she can’t read minds, and you used two different working definitions. Those are red flags that the seemingly straightforward phrase “enslaves minds” isn’t as clear as it first appears. (I remind you that the phrase “support the troops” seems similarly straightforward, but is often vacuous in practice. What, for example, does sticking a magnetic ribbon on an SUV have to do with support?)

    Caliban: “Demanding definitions for them is just insufferably obsequious.”

    Nonsense. It’s a way to separate the meaningful statements from vacuous emotive language.

    Caliban: “i don’t know how you can think that creationism isn’t a symptom of mental slavery. It’s a direct product of dogmatic indoctrination.”

    Short answer: Because “slavery” is not a generic synonym for badness.

    Long answer:

    It may be a “direct product of dogmatic indoctrination” … unless someone learns it from one’s uncle telling stories around a campfire, or from sciency-looking websites, or whatnot. That someone holds creationist views does not imply that they were taught them by repressive schoolmasters (or Sunday School masters) trying to mess with their heads. Creationism is false belief, but its mere existence doesn’t say much about how the belief was acquired.

    Even more to the point, why the heck is “religious indoctrination” being used as a synonym for “mental slavery” in the first place? In your original definition of “mental slavery,” there was at least an indication of a suppression of an individual’s wants, or as you put it, “obedience to dogma and authority over individual conscience and expression.” Here, forced obedience isn’t an issue. Miseducation, yes, but “slavery” isn’t a generic synonym for badness.

  75. #75 Leni
    December 12, 2008

    Holy cow, you guys have been busy.

    JJ wrote:

    Leni: “It’s nearly ubiquitous in human cultures and far more often than not coupled with a religious code to enforce it, often brutally.”

    [JJ] If you haven’t read the literature, or at least a review of it, how do you know that the “far more often than not” bit is true, or just a perception due to confirmation bias?

    I said I didn’t feel like digging into the literature to find all the documentation on obscure religions. I still have 70% of population covered with the major ones (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism). And as I said above, it’s probably a good bit higher when we factor in the less common ones.

    So, “far more often than not” is a perfectly reasonable description.

    JJ wrote:

    Let me put it another way, just to make it clearer. If smoking had both effects that retarded and promoted cancer, depending on the circumstances, then the statement “Smoking causes cancer” would be a blatant half-truth. That’s a pretty good analog for how religion works on hearts.

    By reducing stress and contributing to weight loss it may just do that. It’s a terrible thing to say, but now that most of us smokers have to walk an average of 5 miles to smoke (both ways uphill and in the snow), we probably get a lot more exercise too!

    More seriously, there are some indications that smoking can provide protection against certain cancers. Not all cancer, certainly not lung cancer, but certain types of breast cancer? Maybe!

    Jason’s remark was not substantially different than the more general statement “Smoking is bad for you.” Well, it can be, but it isn’t always. It may not even be bad for you most of the time. Yet the statement isn’t really a half-truth, unless perhaps you have an axe to grind.

    Now, if someone called me enslaved to the cigarette, I would have to agree. I am. And it does harden my heart, because non-smokers sometimes annoy me and I secretly wish to make them suffer as payback for having to listen to all their complaining. But that’s another thread…

  76. #76 Leni
    December 12, 2008

    JJ wrote:

    Did it occur to you that I found none of those examples adequate or obvious? I have kept harping on the point that the examples are useless for explaining the meaning of the phrase “enslaves minds” in the absence of an actual definition of the phrase.

    Yes, I did notice the harping. It was subtle, but my highly attuned harping detector nevertheless managed to pick it up.

    Here it what I said again, for everyone’s delight and benefit:

    Religion has the peculiar property and (usually) the necessary moral, social, and sometimes legal authority of giving justification to nearly any idea a dreamed up by a believer. I suppose you could call that a mixed moral bag, but the fact that most of us take it for granted that we need to draw our core ideals from that bag, or that other bags only come out of that bag, is a kind of mental enslavement.

    If we think we need to find justification in that particular bag for everything, good or bad, then I think it’s at least fair, if hyperbolic, to call that mental enslavement.

    Now, you couple those peculiarities of religion with the very common notion that being on sound religious ground automatically makes something *good* and what you have is a circle of self-reinforcing, positive feedback loop bullshit, for good or bad (whatever those might be). It’s an obligatory and self-justifying litmus test. As I said before, MLK might have used religious rhetoric, he might have used his connections and experience as a minister, but he was smart enough to know that wasn’t sufficient.

    Now, before you lecture me on being over-simplistic, bear in mind that this is simply one way. There are probably others, both ones I can think of and surely ones I that I can not. The litmus test is just the most obvious and most common.

    To which I later added:

    Further, I wouldn’t expect the problem to manifest itself in exactly the same way in every religion, or even in various individuals within a given religion. For the Scientologists, it might be psychiatry, for some Christians, it’s gay rights, for some Muslims, it’s apostasy, for some Buddhists, it’s women’s rights, for some Hindus it’s class subjugation. And so on.

    The only thing I would add to that is that if it isn’t the things I listed, then it’s probably something else. Probably something which is reinforced or directly codified into their religion, or at the very least their interpretation of it.

    The most egregious thing about the statement in the sign is that it flies in the face of what religious people think about themselves and each other. They get offended because they see their beliefs as nearly unfailingly good and beyond criticism because their intent is usually well-meaning. But that’s sort of the problem though, isn’t it? Taking for granted that your actions are acceptable because you mean well and most people agree with you is at best a kind of entitled thoughtlessness and at worst a kind of mental enslavement.

  77. #77 J. J. Ramsey
    December 12, 2008

    Leni: “I said I didn’t feel like digging into the literature to find all the documentation on obscure religions. I still have 70% of population covered with the major ones (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism).”

    And if you are talking about Christianity, the claim that oppression of women is “coupled with a religious code to enforce it, often brutally” is often false. First off, Christianity doesn’t have a nice, neat code akin to, say, the Torah. Many of the dos-and-donts are in letters, and so the less desirable dos-and-donts get written off as first-century stuff that was only written for the letter’s immediate audience and doesn’t apply to us. And this is what even conservative evangelicals do. Don’t believe me? Go find a book called How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, by Fee and Stuart. This is probably why you get, for example, Sarah Palin, being a mayor and a governor instead of just barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. With Judaism, you need to take into account the Conservative and Reform branches. (As for Buddhism, I don’t know if there even are rules on women, and with Hinduism, I don’t know if the cultural rules are tied to supernatural beliefs or not. But then, I’m not making the “far more often than not” claim.)

    Leni: “By reducing stress and contributing to weight loss it may just do that…. More seriously, there are some indications that smoking can provide protection against certain cancers. [emphasis mine]”

    “May”? “some indications”? Contrast this with, for example, to the known trends of religious people tending to be more generous than secular folk, even with giving to non-religious charities. With smoking, you have clear negative risks and minuscule possible benefits. With religion, it’s not as clearly lopsided in the negative direction.

  78. #78 Caliban
    December 12, 2008

    JJ, I would agree that the “softening/hardening of hearts” language is a generalization. In the context of Dan’s sign, i think the generalization can be interpreted differently, you seem to approach it as a hard fact claim, whereas I read it as expressing a general sentiment about the dangers of religion. Because religion often does those things enough of the time and in enough places to warrant being general about it. Or at least being general for the purposes of what a simple sign can communicate.

    Further, just because someone uses emotive language doesn’t necessarily entail that it is vacuous. I think the sign language is evocative enough that even without an “official” definition for the “mental slavery” phrase, the general point comes across. One can with little difficulty think of a variety of things that could be thought of as “mental slavery” after all.

    Speaking of which, yes it’s true that Creationism is a false concept and doesn’t necessarily indicate how one acquired it, but if you were to take a wild guess as to how most people came to acquire that belief, what do you honestly think it would be? Bear in mind, that the Pew data i posted earlier stated that the primary reasons Creationists gave for not accepting evolution where overtly religious ones and then ask yourself how most people acquire their religious convictions?

    Perhaps that is where our impasse hits most. I didn’t take the sign as a hard knowledge claim as much as i took it as expressing a general sentiment that religion produces negative affects. Hence, the general language.

    Do i think the sign could have been written better? Totally, but it’s only a sign so i was willing to cut it some slack.

  79. #79 Leni
    December 12, 2008

    JJ wrote:

    And if you are talking about Christianity, the claim that oppression of women is “coupled with a religious code to enforce it, often brutally” is often false. First off, Christianity doesn’t have a nice, neat code akin to, say, the Torah.

    They have the Bible, which they profess to use as the basis of their morality. The fact that some Christians use this old, “messy” hodgepodge of conflicting letters (some of which are downright disturbing) to do things like make and death decisions, determine whose rights they will vote against, and so forth, only confirms the point that this is a kind of mental enslavement.

    The litmus test, remember? Pointing out that it’s actually a pretty crappy litmus strip only confirms my point.

    (And just because religious people give to charities does not mean they don’t have hard hearts about other things for religious reasons. Even Fred Phelps has done some good works.)

  80. #80 J. J. Ramsey
    December 12, 2008

    Caliban: “Further, just because someone uses emotive language doesn’t necessarily entail that it is vacuous.”

    No, it doesn’t, and I didn’t mean to imply that it did. I was speaking of emotive language that happens to be vacuous.

    Caliban: “One can with little difficulty think of a variety of things that could be thought of as ‘mental slavery’ after all.”

    Whether those things could, upon reflection, still be justified as slavery is another matter. That’s the catch.

    Caliban: “Speaking of which, yes it’s true that Creationism is a false concept and doesn’t necessarily indicate how one acquired it, but if you were to take a wild guess as to how most people came to acquire that belief, what do you honestly think it would be?”

    Through their nominal religious beliefs, but not necessarily through formal indoctrination. I’d especially expect that to be true of those who grew up in church before the religious right made “scientific creationism” an issue. And again, “slavery” is not a generic synonym for badness.

    Leni:

    Religion has the peculiar property and (usually) the necessary moral, social, and sometimes legal authority of giving justification to nearly any idea a dreamed up by a believer. I suppose you could call that a mixed moral bag, but the fact that most of us take it for granted that we need to draw our core ideals from that bag, or that other bags only come out of that bag, is a kind of mental enslavement.

    Except that you haven’t established that most of us take it for granted that we need to draw our core ideals from religion, as opposed to taking core ideals from the surrounding culture without much thought as to their source. Take, for example, the American ideals of freedom and liberty, or more to the point, that they are thought of as American rather than Christian. Or take the so-called “American dream,” which again is thought of as American rather than Christian.

    Also, as I said to Caliban, “slavery” is not a generic synonym for badness.

  81. #81 J. J. Ramsey
    December 12, 2008

    Leni [paraphrasing]: “This religion does such-and-such bad thing. This is an example of mental enslavement. Never mind that I never say why this bad thing has anything to do with slavery. This is an example of mental enslavement.”

    Sorry, Leni, but this is what I keep seeing in your posts. Repeating “mental enslavement” after pretty much conceding that you can’t define it doesn’t make the phrase less vacuous.

    Leni: “The litmus test, remember?”

    Actually, I found your attempted description of a litmus test to be babble.

  82. #82 Leni
    December 13, 2008

    Except that you haven’t established that most of us take it for granted that we need to draw our core ideals from religion, as opposed to taking core ideals from the surrounding culture without much thought as to their source.

    Well JJ, if religion is not the primary justification for “hard-hearted” attitudes against (for example) LBGT people, teaching evolution, and women’s rights, then perhaps you can tell us what is.

    Please, enlighten us! Would you also please explain why people who think these things mostly use religion as their primary reason?

    Take, for example, the American ideals of freedom and liberty, or more to the point, that they are thought of as American rather than Christian. Or take the so-called “American dream,” which again is thought of as American rather than Christian.

    See, now this is the part where your post looks like babbling to me.

    Sorry, Leni, but this is what I keep seeing in your posts. Repeating “mental enslavement” after pretty much conceding that you can’t define it doesn’t make the phrase less vacuous.

    I said I didn’t know exactly what the author of the sign had in mind.

    I did not concede that it could not be defined, and even if I had I would think that necessarily makes it vacuous.

    It’s an overstatement to be sure, the same way that saying “smoking is bad for you” is an overstatement, but it’s one with a lot of merit given the reality of unspeakably large numbers of religious people doing really rotten things in the name of their religion.

    And back to my original point, which is long lost by now, you still have not established that the sign was solely justified by it’s ability to piss people off. You’ve established that there are exceptions to every rule (which we all knew anyway). Even that was paltry since the best exceptions you could come up with were charitable giving and theological debate (which failed the litmus test for the litmus test :P), and then attempted to skirt the issue by blaming everything but religion (as if that isn’t a part of culture). Including, apparently, elephants.

  83. #83 J. J. Ramsey
    December 13, 2008

    Me: “Except that you haven’t established that most of us take it for granted that we need to draw our core ideals from religion, as opposed to taking core ideals from the surrounding culture without much thought as to their source.”

    Leni: “Well JJ, if religion is not the primary justification for ‘hard-hearted’ attitudes against (for example) LBGT people, teaching evolution, and women’s rights …”

    What do “core ideals” have to do with homophobia, etc.? Also, I have never argued that religion never leads to hardening of hearts, but only that the hardening is half the story. The only reason that I can see for bringing up LBGT, etc. as a response to a question about core ideals is as a distraction.

    Leni: “I said I didn’t know exactly what the author of the sign had in mind. I did not concede that it could not be defined …”

    You said, “I’m not going to ‘define’ what they meant when they wrote the sign because I am not a mind reader.” That’s a stronger statement, and also one that effectively concedes that the phrase “enslaves minds” is vacuous, since if the sign’s meaning were clear, there would be no perceived need for mind reading.

    Leni: “It’s an overstatement to be sure, the same way that saying ‘smoking is bad for you’ is an overstatement”

    Except it’s not the same. To the best that I can untangle your litmus test, especially your further comments on it, it looks like special pleading that attempts to deny contingent examples of religion acting well as evidence while allowing similarly contingent examples of religion acting badly as evidence. If that litmus test is given the heave-ho that it deserves, then what we have is, to repeat what I quoted from Haidt, an “ambiguous dataset from which it is so easy to cherry-pick evidence in favor of one’s desired conclusion.”

    Leni: “And back to my original point, which is long lost by now, you still have not established that the sign was solely justified by it’s ability to piss people off.”

    No wonder, since I never made that contention in the first place, not about the “solely justified” part, anyway. Of course, I highly doubt that Barker expected the sign wouldn’t piss people off, since it was a sign which slammed religion placed in a zone where people naively expected warm and fuzzy religious displays. Barker was making a protest, and part of protest is pissing people off, especially if they are bigots. The catch is making sure that people are only pissed off for being told the truth, and Barker was not careful enough to ensure that this was the case.

  84. #84 J. J. Ramsey
    December 13, 2008

    BTW, Leni, here is what I’d consider a reasonable way to demonstrate generalizations of what religion by its very nature, rather than its conflicting particulars, is or does.

    Start with a broad survey of religion, and then use that to come up with a working definition of religion. Once that is done, work from that definition to deduce how religion is or does X, whatever X is. Of course, you can always use a working definition from someone else’s broad survey, like this one, from BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (2004) 27, 713–770:

    1. Widespread counterfactual and counterintuitive beliefs
    in supernatural agents (gods, ghosts, goblins, etc.)
    2. Hard-to-fake public expressions of costly material
    commitments to supernatural agents, that is, offering and
    sacrifice (offerings of goods, property, time, life)
    3. Mastering by supernatural agents of people’s existential
    anxieties (death, deception, disease, catastrophe, pain,
    loneliness, injustice, want, loss)
    4. Ritualized, rhythmic sensory coordination of (1), (2),
    and (3), that is, communion (congregation, intimate fellowship,
    etc.)

    The advantage of doing it this way is that you weed out the noise from conflicting particulars of various religions, and even conflicting particulars from within a religion.

    Now obviously this approach is going to disappoint those who want to say that religion, by its very nature, makes people wonderful and noble. One cannot argue that religion will necessarily soften someone’s heart, though the tenets of particular religions may lead to that. However, this approach will also disappoint those who want to argue that religion necessarily makes people less sensitive to others’ suffering, that is, hardens their hearts. Is homophobia deducible from the above definition? No. Subjugation of women? No. Racism? No. For the origins of those sins, we’ll have to look elsewhere.

  85. #85 Leni
    December 16, 2008

    JJ wrote:

    What do “core ideals” have to do with homophobia, etc.?

    Ask the bible waving bigots at the polls, not me.

    Also, I have never argued that religion never leads to hardening of hearts, but only that the hardening is half the story.

    I guess I think it’s a lot more than half.

    You said, “I’m not going to ‘define’ what they meant when they wrote the sign because I am not a mind reader.” That’s a stronger statement, and also one that effectively concedes that the phrase “enslaves minds” is vacuous, since if the sign’s meaning were clear, there would be no perceived need for mind reading.

    I was being sarcastic (about the mind-reading). All that means is perhaps they had something more specific in mind.

    You know very well I never conceded that it could not be defined or even sensibly articulated, much less that it was vacuous.

    Except it’s not the same.

    Except it is. Smoking isn’t wholly bad for every smoker, even in smokers who are negatively impacted. To say that is, according to your argument, it to utter a half truth.

    I don’t much care that you think the scale is less with religion. A) I don’t think it is and B) the principle is the same.

    To the best that I can untangle your litmus test, especially your further comments on it, it looks like special pleading that attempts to deny contingent examples of religion acting well as evidence while allowing similarly contingent examples of religion acting badly as evidence.

    First, I gave examples of religious people acting badly, in the name of their religion.

    Second, I gave you a general description of how people put religion to practical use. They run everything through the religious filter to see if it is up to snuff. That, in my book, is a form of mental enslavement.

    Another example: Mother Theresa. Didn’t check with anyone but the Catholic Church before using her influence (economic, spiritual and no doubt emotional) to ensure that her advocacy of poor people’s welfare would not include something as basic as birth control.

    Was she hard-hearted? Definitely. Their best interests came second to her beliefs. Was she mentally enslaved? Re-read the last few sentences.

    I guess what I’m saying is that even when religion “acts for good”, its very presence seeks to undermine the principles of (for example) justice and equality by making those issues secondary to or dependent upon religious ones. Again, not even MLK was that short-sighted.

    Third, this isn’t just common, it’s standard faith-based practice to venerate this kind of behavior.

    No wonder, since I never made that contention in the first place, not about the “solely justified” part, anyway…

    Sorry then, my mistake. Perhaps next time you invoke the gadfly you’ll do so when it actually means something and isn’t just a vacuous generality.

    Of course, I highly doubt that Barker expected the sign wouldn’t piss people off, since it was a sign which slammed religion placed in a zone where people naively expected warm and fuzzy religious displays. Barker was making a protest, and part of protest is pissing people off, especially if they are bigots. The catch is making sure that people are only pissed off for being told the truth, and Barker was not careful enough to ensure that this was the case.

    They aren’t pissed off because they were told “the truth” or “the non-truth”. They are pissed off because it is affront the to the unqualified and nearly universal notion that that their religion is always good no matter what the consequences.

    They don’t think it’s true even when it is. Which is most of the time (if polls on things like evolution and SSM are any indicator, which I think they are.)

    I can’t respond to your second post because I really have to get to bed. Later.

  86. #86 J. J. Ramsey
    December 16, 2008

    Leni: “Ask the bible waving bigots at the polls, not me.”

    You were the one who brought up homophobia, etc., when I pointed out that you hadn’t established that most of us take it for granted that we need to draw our core ideals from religion and cited examples of when we don’t.

    Leni: “You know very well I never conceded that it [the phrase "enslaves minds"] could not be defined or even sensibly articulated, much less that it was vacuous.”

    That’s why I added the “pretty much.” You never explicitly wrote a concession, but you kept acting as you could only defend the phrase “enslaves minds” as long as you were evasive about its meaning.

    Leni: “Except it is [the same].”

    Yes, that’s right. Something that consistently has known bad effects through a relatively straightforward mechanism and has dicey and ill-documented good effects at best is just like some phenomenon that has had both well-documented good and bad effects over the centuries, with the good and bad effects depending on myriad historical circumstances, and whose effects, both good and bad, are only loosely tied to what the phenomenon appears at its core to be about. Yup, totally alike, no apples and oranges comparison there.

    Leni: “Second, I gave you a general description of how people put religion to practical use. They run everything through the religious filter to see if it is up to snuff. That, in my book, is a form of mental enslavement.”

    So putting ideas through a filter is “a form of mental enslavement”? By that reasoning, a skeptic who runs ideas through a filter to check them for accuracy and logical consistency is mentally enslaved, and so is a humanist who runs ideas through a filter to check if they are ethical. I suppose this is possible, depending on the definition that you have in mind for “mental slavery,” but I find it strange that such laudable filtering would merit the negative connotations implied by the word “slavery.”

    Or perhaps your idea of “mental enslavement” isn’t as well-formed as you thought?

    Leni: “I guess what I’m saying is that even when religion ‘acts for good’, its very presence seeks to undermine the principles of (for example) justice and equality by making those issues secondary to or dependent upon religious ones.”

    Religion does not seek. It is not an agent with intentions. Of course, one can personify religion in a figure of speech, but in that case, it ought to be obvious how to represent such a figure of speech in more literal terms, and I don’t see a way to tease out a literal meaning from your words. Offhand, it looks like you are trying to come up with an ad hoc way to make good religious actions somehow not count, and it’s coming out muddled.

    Leni: “They aren’t pissed off because they were told ‘the truth’ or ‘the non-truth’….”

    Let me rephrase, then. The catch is making sure that people are only pissed off by being told the truth, and Barker was not careful enough to ensure that this was the case.

    Leni: “I can’t respond to your second post because I really have to get to bed. Later.”

    What?! How can you sleep when you think someone is wrong on the internet? :)

  87. #87 Leni
    December 19, 2008

    So putting ideas through a filter is “a form of mental enslavement”?

    When the filter is arbitrary, at odds with demonstrable facts, and/or nonsensical it most certainly is. It’s closer to a senseless OCD ritual than it is to a simple check for logical consistency.

    That’s all I really have to add to the discussion. The widespread religious objections to things like gay rights and female reproductive rights and equality speak for themselves about the hardening of hearts and enslaving of minds.

  88. #88 Gary Painters
    June 15, 2011

    I think it’s just plan stupid. It’s like the gay rights movement. Gays have become intolerant of non-gays, to the point that intolerance has switched. Same with atheists. They have become intolerant of Christians. Face it, this country was founded on Christian principles. There are going to be Christmas trees.