Politics and Nonbelief

Blogger R. Joseph Hoffmann recently posted a stunningly idiotic essay lamenting the present state of atheist discourse. It’s standard fare for him, this time expressed in especially pretentious and contentless prose. For example, I defy you to discern anything sensible in these two paragraphs:

Atheism has become a very little idea because it is now promoted by little people with a small focus. These people tend to think that there are two kinds of questions: the questions we have already answered and the questions we will answer tomorrow. When they were even smaller than they are now, their father asked them every six weeks, “Whadja get in math and science?” When they had children of their own, they asked them, “Whadja get in science and math?” Which goes to show, people can change.

They eschew mystery, unless it’s connected to a telescopic lens or an electron microscope or a neutrinometer at the Hadron Collider at CERN. “Mystery” is not a state to be enjoyed or celebrated like a good wine or a raven-haired woman with haunting and troubled eyes: it is a temporary state of befuddlement, an unknown sum, an uncharted particle, a glimpse of a distant galaxy, the possibility that Mars supported microbial life.

This is not how you write when you are trying to persuade people by making a forceful argument. You only write like this when you’re trying to impress people with how well you write.

Hoffmann goes on like this for paragraph after preening paragraph, so I decided the post wasn’t worth a response. Eric MacDonald was more patient than I, and gave eloquent voice to everything I was thinking.


Then, today, I came across this post from Jacques Berlinerblau, over at the blog for The Chronicle of Higher Education. Berlinerblau writes:

If I were in charge of American Atheism–which I am not, but then again who is?–I would ask myself the following questions: Why does poll after poll indicate that we are one of the most disliked groups in the United States? Why are there so few self-professed atheists among 535 congresspersons and senators? Why have all three branches of the federal government turned their backs on the vaunted mid-century policy of Church/State separation? Why has atheism–a once formidable intellectual tradition–become such a “little idea” as R. Joseph Hoffmann memorably put it in an important recent essay.

I obviously don’t agree that Hoffmann’s essay was important, but putting that aside I think Berlinerblau is asking important questions. The trouble is that he doesn’t provide any answers. In fact, he immediately changes the subject with this:

As Head Atheist in Charge I would first get my priorities straight: The intellectual crisis of atheism is actually far less severe than the political crisis. Pop Atheists have certainly made atheism a small idea. Though Hoffmann himself emerges from the erudite and thoughtful Secular Humanist circle. Alongside that school there exists some truly excellent scholarly research about nonbelief.

It’s always frustrating to read people like Hoffmann and Berlinerblau. You have to wade through an awful lot of pompous academic puffery before you can even try to discern a point. Leaving aside the silliness about atheism being in a state of intellectual crisis or being a small idea (whatever that even means), I’d like know how this scholarly research will help us answer the questions he asked in the previous paragraph. Alas, Berlinerblau offers very little in that regard.

In scholarly journals–where far too many religion reporters fear to tread–a completely different understanding of atheism is emerging. Those like Hoffmann who think seriously about their subject matter are routinely debunking popular misconceptions about atheism. Once the media turns its attention to this scholarship, produced by both believers and nonbelievers, atheism becomes a big idea again.

A completely different understanding of atheism? Different from what? The links in the paragraph above are to two of Berlinerblau’s earlier posts. Very important posts, clearly, since Berlinerblau is careful to mention they are the result of serious thought.

You should read the posts. Berlinerblau conjures up lists of allegedly popular misconceptions held by atheists about atheism, without providing either a quote or a link to anyone actually presenting them. I don’t recognize any of them, and most seem incredibly trivial to me. Here is one example:

Glaring Misconception 1: Atheist identity is timelessly stable and consistent. There is basically one way to be an atheist and it has been operative since the days of the Athenian polis. We atheists are so cognizant of who we are that we can spot one another in crowds. Much in the way that anonymous bald men on the street feel a sense of solidarity with one another, we atheists can visually bond with our atheist brothers (we note with sadness that we lack for sisters) in public spaces. Also, at the circus our gaze is drawn almost reflexively to the atheist clown.

Seriously? This is the difference between atheism being a small idea and being a big idea? I have no idea what “atheist identity” is — not, at any rate, if we are imagining something that was ever thought to be timelessly stable and consistent — and I am not aware of anything any prominent atheist has written that can plausibly be parodied in the way Berlinerblau does here.

So far we are just in the throat-clearing phase of Berlinerblau’s post. With the next paragraph we finally get down to business:

The real priority for American Atheism concerns its political future, its ability to shape policy agendas so as to represent the interests of its constituency. The key question, then, is: What do atheists want? If what they want is to abolish religion–a New Atheist theme with deep roots in the Radical Enlightenment, Deism, and Marxism–then there is no political future. Atheism will simply remain a movement of overheated malcontents lamenting their great civic misfortune.

My guess, however, is that the majority of American nonbelievers are not bent on abolishing religion. Their (legitimate) gripe is only with the most power-mad and theocratically inclined forms of religion. If permitted to find their voice (and if ever approached by the media) I think they would not express a desire for religion to disappear but aspire for a much more modest goal: freedom from religion.

Is there even a single nonbeliever, American or otherwise, who wants to abolish religion? Have Dawkins or Hitchens or anyone else said anything close to that? What we actually want is simply for religion to die a natural death. We want roughly what has happened in Scandanavia and other parts of Europe, where majorities of free people have decided that religious belief just isn’t important to them anymore. We certainly do not want the government to do anything to hinder religious practice (with obvious exceptions, like if those practices involve violence.)

Berlinerblau is quite right, though, that as far as politics is concerned what atheists really want is freedom from religion. The only thing we ask of the government is that it remain scrupulously neutral with regard to religion. But does he have any suggestions for how we might go about attaining that?

Of and From: “The Constitution,” vice-presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman famously intoned in 2000, “guarantees freedom of religion not freedom from religion.” It is precisely this form of demagoguery and its associated policy implications that atheists must strenuously challenge.

Freedom of and freedom from religion are not mutually exclusive. A clever atheist leadership would spend its resources not on billboard advertisements devoted to making the point that your God is a doofus, but to demonstrating that these two freedoms can exist in symbiosis. The key word is freedom. Southern Baptists, after all, want no more to live under a Catholic establishment than Catholics wish to live under a Southern Baptist one.

I certainly agree with that first paragraph. But the second is just ridiculous, especially coming from someone so keen on reminding us what a deep and serious thinker he is. First, most of the atheist billboards that have gone up are not remotely insulting towards religious people. There are rare exceptions, but most say things like, “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone,” followed by a web site address. And it really does seem pretty obvious that if you want to mainstream your point of view, you have to make it visible. Putting up billboards and other advertisements seems like a perfectly reasonable step in that direction.

The second, and more important, point, is that Berlinerblau’s crude argument about “freedom of” and “freedom from” being compatible is far too simplistic. Most of the church/state issues we deal with today are nowhere near as dramatic as trying to impose a Catholic establishment or whatnot. When the country really is in danger of becoming a Catholic theocracy, you can be sure the Southern Baptists won’t need the atheists to persuade them to oppose it.

Nowadays the most prominent church/state issues involve things like directing public tax dollars to parochial schools or other faith-based organizations. Most religious people would not want any part of a government program that blatantly preferred one religion, even their own, over another, but too many are just fine with government promoting religion over non-religion. A nakedly sectarian prayer before a public high school graduation, say, would not be acceptable to most people, but a bland acknowledgment of God is just fine to many.

Berlinerblau has nothing concrete to suggest regarding how a clever atheist leadership would persuade Southern Baptists to equate freedom of with freedom from. If he has a really slam dunk argument that would get them to slap their foreheads, I’m all ears. I would suggest that part of the explanation for why people often do not equate the two is that we live in a society so drenched in religion, and in which religion is so commonly equated with goodness and morality, that nonbelief is all but invisible. That people have religious differences is obvious to all, but that a great many people choose to live without religion at all is not even in the consciousness of many people, especially in certain parts of the country. I would say that posting atheist billboards, writing bestselling books, and holding atheist conferences are good steps towards changing that fact. And they are certainly more productive than Berlinerblau’s empty rhetoric.

Widen the Tent: Why must the admission price to American Atheism be total nonbelief in God and hatred of all religion? Can’t the movement, at the very least, split the difference?

Why can’t those who have doubts about God but remain affiliated in some way with a religion be included in the big tent? Conversely, why can’t those who have no religion (see below) but some type of spiritual or faith commitment enter the movement as well? Why can’t skeptics and agnostics join the club? What about heretics and apostates? In short, democratic mobilization requires numbers. Atheism needs numbers, accurate numbers. . .

Know Your Numbers: “Atheists have the biggest underground movement in America. They are everywhere.” Such were the words of the famed atheist firebrand Madalyn Murray O’Hair. Not surprisingly O’Hair would claim in 1969 that her advocacy served 74-million Americans!

O’Hair’s estimate is part of a long tradition of Atheist self-aggrandizement. To this day extreme atheists in America estimate their numbers in the tens of millions. The error often stems from a misreading of various American Religious Identification Surveys. Those studies discovered growing numbers of “nones” or people who professed no religion.

Atheist ideologues routinely assume that the “nones” are atheists and hence conclude that they represent roughly 15 percent of the American population. The mistake is not only baffling, especially for a cohort that prizes itself on empirical precision, but disastrous to the strategic vision of American atheism.

After all, how effective would the political activism of Jewish Americans be if they
started from the premise that there were 110 million Members of the Tribe shlepping about the country?

What on earth is Berlinerblau going on about? He assures us that atheist ideologues routinely assume that people who do not associate with a religion also do not believe in God, but he provides no examples of anyone prominent doing that. And who exactly is metaphorically throwing skeptics or agnostics out of the club? People like Jerry Coyne and myself happily identify with a religious tradition (we’re Jewish), but I haven’t noticed that hurting our standing within the community. Some of us are critical of agnosticism as a philosophical position, or have some problems with the idea of a “spiritual atheist,” but we are happy to have agnostics and spiritual atheists on board when it comes time to fight political battles.

Once again, Berlinerblau has nothing serious or concrete to offer. For the sake of argument, let’s suppose he is actually right that atheists routinely overestimate their numbers. Can he demonstrate any concrete way that belief has harmed atheist advocacy?

Which brings us to Berlinerblau’s last suggestion:

Reach Out and Touch (Moderate) Faith: And while we are at it, why can’t atheists make common cause with religious moderates? In its first decade of operations New Atheism has virtually assured its political irrelevance by acerbically shunning the very religious folks (think Mainline Protestants, Liberal Catholics, Reform Jews, etc.) who are waging their own pitched battles with fundamentalists. “Even mild and moderate religion,” averred Richard Dawkins in the The God Delusion, “helps to provide the climate of faith in which extremism naturally flourishes.”

Evangelicals, it bears noting, achieved many of their greatest political triumphs by entering into what Francis Schaeffer called “co-belligerency” with Roman Catholics and Mormons on issues like abortion, gay marriage, religion in public schools, etc. In other words, leadership put aside seething theological animosities in order to achieve pragmatic political goals.

In so doing, the Christian Right successfully managed to curtail both freedom from religion and freedom of religion for countless Americans. The time has come for a strategic atheist defense of both these virtues.

And atheists have been perfectly willing to make common cause with moderate religious folks on subjects like science education and prayer in school. Many of us have criticisms to make about the religious arguments of people like, say, Ken Miller or John Haught, but when it comes time to fight creationism I’m not aware of a single atheist who is not happy to have them on the team.

It is when I read essays like Berlinerblau’s that I understand why academics are thought to live in ivory towers. I catch a glimpse of what anti-intellectualism is all about. Atheists were politically irrelevant and reviled long before Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris came along. They had nothing to do with creating the political difficulties atheists face, and there is not a shred of evidence that anything has gotten worse for atheists because of their work.

What has changed as a result of their efforts is that atheists are now far more visible than ever before. By writing a few books, and standing tall in the face of extraordinary vituperation from outraged religious folks, they have shown that there is a surprisingly large market for atheism in this country. No one predicted that their books would be hugely successful, but people are still talking vigorously about them years after they were published. Aided by bloggers, and by numerous unheralded organizers on the ground, we now have a vibrant community of nonbelievers, both online and real world. The numerous well-attended conferences, and, yes, the billboards and merchandise, are all positive developments. Considering how deep in its own endzone atheism was starting, I’d say the New Atheists have accomplished something pretty impressive.

Then here come the Berlinerblau’s of the world to tut-tut and to criticize. It’s all so vulgar and low brow and not at all the sort of thing that scholars investigating the roots of nonbelief in fifteenth-century France care about. Those people on the ground who actually built something are doing it all wrong. He has it all figured out if only people would ask him. He thinks seriously about these issues, you know.

But when it comes time to offer anything concrete we get only talking points and empty rhetoric. Despite how he frames his essay, he never actually tells us what he would do if he were in charge of American atheism. He just criticizes what others are doing. One suspects that he, like so many critics of the New Atheists, don’t actually have any constructive political strategy. To judge from their writing their main agenda has more to do with preserving their own self-rightousness and feelings of superiority.

Comments

  1. #1 Reginald Selkirk
    December 6, 2011

    This is not how you write when you are trying to persuade people by making a forceful argument. You only write like this when you’re trying to impress people with how well you write.

    It doesn’t matter, he failed at both.

  2. #2 Reginald Selkirk
    December 6, 2011

    Why have all three branches of the federal government turned their backs on the vaunted mid-century policy of Church/State separation?

    The middle of which century? The 1950s saw the introduction of God to our money and the Pledge of Allegiance.

  3. #3 Reginald Selkirk
    December 6, 2011

    There is basically one way to be an atheist and it has been operative since the days of the Athenian polis.

    The trouble with showing off like that is that if you miss a step, someone will surely point it out. Organized atheism as embodied in the Carvaka school of India predates classical Athens.

  4. #4 Jeffrey Shallit
    December 6, 2011

    Both Berlinerblau and Hoffman are evidently envious that they were not the ones chosen to lead the atheist revolution. Instead, it’s those Johnny-come-latelys like Hitchens and Dawkins and Myers. But you know what? Hitchens and Dawkins and Myers are entertaining and are better writers than Berlinerblau and Hoffman.

  5. #5 Sascha Vongehr
    December 6, 2011

    Good ideas turn “little” once large numbers of mediocre folk join. Popular atheism today is mostly pseudoscience, yet popular atheists make little effort distancing themselves, a war camp mentality that nourishes the enemy like all “wars on XYZ”. “Atheist’s” consistent claim of presenting the side of science while grossly misrepresenting science makes science look bad, and *this* now is an actually important problem in a technological world that wants to decide by democratic means.
    Atheism has become “little” from a scientistic standpoint:
    http://www.science20.com/alpha_meme/mix_science_and_god_correctly_or_don%25E2%2580%2599t-78294

  6. #6 JimR
    December 6, 2011

    A religious intensity line
    Atheist-Agnostic-Undecided-Inactive-Mainline-Attends-Fundamentalist
    For anyone to the right of Atheist to promote accommodation with anything to the right of them is nonsensical. It is like trying to average apples and oranges. I like the average human as an example with one breast and one testicle. There is easy accommodation between the more centrist positions, but not between those more than three positions apart. It would behoove the center dwellers to try to understand the nuances of the positions significantly apart from them.
    I hazard a pure guess that right now an irregular bell curve approximates number of adherents to the religious intensity line above, or that it used to. The bell is deflating and becoming a bimodal distribution centered on each end. The loss from the center is fine with both ends, but seems to generate blah-blah discussions such as these to tempt us back to the center.
    The solicitous condescension’s from the majority seem like noble acts, but when the numbers change, these will be vengeful partisans; and it is happening. That is not far away.

  7. #7 hibob
    December 6, 2011

    “Freedom of and freedom from religion are not mutually exclusive. ”

    Actually, except for one case (atheism), they are identical. You’re not really free to practice one religion unless you have freedom from all of the other religions.

    It’s a bit like the joke about an atheist saying to a monotheist “we’re actually almost the same: you don’t believe in thousands of different gods; I don’t believe in thousands of gods – plus one. You’re 99.9% of the way to being an atheist already”.

  8. #8 AbnormalWrench
    December 6, 2011

    #4 Jeffrey Shallit says:

    But you know what? Hitchens and Dawkins and Myers are entertaining and are better writers than Berlinerblau and Hoffman.

    Far more importantly, they are far better *communicators*. That is always the impression I get by the nay-sayers of the Gnu Atheists, they never speak plainly, they never try to distill complexity, they relish wordy witticisms that add nothing to the conversation…..exactly what Jason is pointing out here. I sum that up as “bad communicators”. If your goal in writing isn’t to further conversation or help people understand a concept, which is how I would describe these lack-luster comments, then what IS the purpose of them?

  9. #9 Wow
    December 7, 2011

    “I obviously don’t agree that Hoffman’s essay was important, but putting that aside I think Berlinerblau is asking important questions.”

    His questions are not to be answered to fix anything, they’re being asked to help people “find out” that the answer is that Atheists should shut up and be subservient if they can’t manage to be religious.

  10. #10 Wow
    December 7, 2011

    “but we are happy to have agnostics and spiritual atheists on board when it comes time to fight political battles.”

    More, at least in my case, I will join with anyone (of faith or not) to fight a political battle if I believe in that battle. I won’t join anyone (of faith or not) to fight a political battle I don’t believe in, even if they “helped me” on another battle.

  11. #11 J. Quinton
    December 7, 2011

    The biggest complaint I hear about atheism – from real people on the ground, young people in my age group, not in an ivory tower somewhere – is that atheist come off as too intellectually elitist and snobbish.

    It’s ironic to lament the “intellectual crisis of atheism” when it was atheism’s intellectualism that puts most people off to it in the first place.

  12. #12 eric
    December 7, 2011

    Berlinerblau asks: “Why does poll after poll indicate that we are one of the most disliked groups in the United States?”

    Funny, there was just a survey on that. PZ covers it here. The short summary is that the researchers tested three possible reasons for dislike: people think atheists are out-of-tribe and therefore untrustworthy; people think atheists are disgusting; people think atheists are jerks.

    The evidence from this survey points to the first being true, not the second or third. And as PZ points out, this is a direct refutation of all the anti-gnu atheist “you’re being too strident” claims. Theist dislike has nothing to do with atheists being too strident. Rather, it has to do with perceiving atheists as being outsiders, ‘not like us.’

    If correct, this evidence also points to strategies atheists can use to reduce dislike. Forget all that accommodation stuff about being nicer or tone or showing respect for religion. Don’t need it. What atheists need to do is hammer home the point that they put their pants on one leg at a time. Love their children, hamburgers, and apple pie. Enjoy sit coms and sports. That they are the people next door – your postman, your bus driver, your PTA representative. That atheists support the troops and like America (or whatever country you’re in). I.e., that atheists are just normal Americans, to be considered in-group with theists.

    The sci-fi channel had a series of commercials with celebrities and sports stars saying “I am sci-fi.” (Though the only one I can remember is Charles Barkley dunking planets through a hoop.) Maybe something like that would be good advertising; get popular movie and sports stars to do 5-second spots saying “I am American atheism.”

  13. #13 Wow
    December 7, 2011

    “is that atheist come off as too intellectually elitist and snobbish.”

    But how do you respond to a stupid statement with something that can’t be insinuated by the motivated listener as being intellectually elitist and snobbish?

    Plus when did becoming intelligent get to be a bad thing?

    So, do you have an example of an exchange between your religious person and the atheist that comes across as at least one of these things?

  14. #14 Wow
    December 7, 2011

    “That they are the people next door – your postman, your bus driver”

    and you DO NO f..k with us.

    (or weren’t you thinking of a Fight Club reference with that..?)

  15. #15 eric
    December 7, 2011

    Wow – I actually wasn’t. Saw the movie, once, many years ago. About the only pop culture reference I absorbed from it was the “first rule of fight club…second rule of fight club” one.

  16. #16 Another Matt
    December 7, 2011

    So, do you have an example of an exchange between your religious person and the atheist that comes across as at least one of these things?

    In my experience with religious family, sometimes even citing something you’ve read that isn’t scripture comes across as elitist – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told to “put down the books.” For that part of my family, reading anything that causes one to doubt is a kind of satanic addiction. Some of this goes back to interpreting the original sin as trying to gain knowledge independent of divine revelation. It’s a kind of ingenious self-fulfilling prophecy – “1) The Bible says that gaining knowledge independent of God’s word will lead one to doubt God’s word. 2) I’ve seen this happen to cousin Matt with my own eyes. 3) See, the Bible is true.” I will sometimes say, “well, an awful lot of people must have lost their souls so that you could have facebook, cousin.”

  17. #17 azportsider
    December 7, 2011

    It’s worth even less of my time to read Berlinerblau than Hoffman. Berlinerblau seems not to have had an original thought in a long time (if ever), and everything he posts these days amounts to: “Yeah! What Joe said!”

  18. #18 Wow
    December 7, 2011

    “In my experience with religious family, sometimes even citing something you’ve read that isn’t scripture comes across as elitist”

    It’s kind of what I suspect, but maybe J Quinton has an example otherwise.

    Like everyone, I’d prefer to think I can change.

    But if the change is “become religious and stop questioning”, then I’m not going to do that.

    But I’m open to there being something that can be improved. I just have to know it really exists as a problem with me as an atheist rather than them as religious feeling scared at losing their religion.

  19. #19 J. Quinton
    December 7, 2011

    But how do you respond to a stupid statement with something that can’t be insinuated by the motivated listener as being intellectually elitist and snobbish?

    You can’t. Obviously, the proper response shouldn’t be something even more intellectual, like what Hoffman wants to happen since it will turn the common person off even more. And let’s face it, the entire point of “New Atheism” is to reach the common person, the entire point of “New Atheism” is to take it out of the academy, since academia is already dominated by atheism; or at least has better representation. The real solution is what eric suggested: Showing theists that we are people just like them.

  20. #20 Vicki
    December 7, 2011

    He seems to be pointing out that there’s no atheist equivalent of gaydar, so… ?

    I’d like to see this “big idea” that they insist is needed, if “there are no gods, and billions of people are basing their decisions on false assumptions” is a small one.

  21. #21 D Hart
    December 7, 2011

    Regarding the distinction between “of” and “from” (religion) as asserted by Joe Lieberman and conceded in your essay, by definition they are one and the same: “1.(used to indicate distance or direction from, separation, deprivation, etc.): within a mile of the church; south of Omaha; to be robbed of one’s money.”

  22. #22 Wow
    December 7, 2011

    No, freedom of religion means you’re allowed any religion.

    Since atheism isn’t a religion, you’re not allowed to be an atheist because of the “freedom of religion” clause.

    Freedom from religion means that you aren’t going to be interfered with or have to aid any religion.

    You see, you forgot the other words. Freedom X religion. It gives you the meaning.

  23. #23 Wow
    December 7, 2011

    ” ” But how do you respond to a stupid statement with something that can’t be insinuated by the motivated listener as being intellectually elitist and snobbish?”

    You can’t.”

    Then why did you bring it up?

  24. #24 James Sweet
    December 7, 2011

    Good ideas turn “little” once large numbers of mediocre folk join.

    Yes, this pretty much sums up the elitist position of Berlinerblau and Hoffmann. I’m not sure how someone could be so un-self-aware as not to notice how misanthropic this sounds…

  25. #25 Dan L.
    December 7, 2011

    @#5:

    Ugh, that shamelessly self-promoted blog post is even worse than Berlinerblau. And even longer. I suggest skipping it.

  26. #26 cervantes
    December 7, 2011

    Berlinerbrau doesn’t make sense on the most basic level. Atheism is not an idea, large small or medium. It’s the negation of an idea. It is simply the denial of God. Beyond that, you can have whatever ideas you want, and still be an atheist. I would say that current cosmology, physics and biology are all very big ideas, big enough to contain big ideas that yet contain big ideas within them. They don’t need God, in fact they work much better without him/her/it. So atheism may clear the way for big ideas, but in itself, it can’t be one because it isn’t an idea at all. End of story.

  27. #27 Dan L.
    December 7, 2011

    Philosophically naïve scientists like Stephen Hawking have abused the Big Bang solution of general relativity in order to argue that the universe has no boundary, or better, needs no boundary condition, no god. It is a simplification of supreme stupidity for several reasons. Firstly: The singularities of general relativity are obviously incompatible with quantum mechanics, which is why string theoreticians secretly laugh about Hawking for many years now. To them, he is little more than a convenient freak in a wheel chair that attracts media attention to physics.

    This is from the blog post at number 5. Disgusting, right?

    Not to mention problematic. First of all, string theorists are hardly in any position to shit talk about the quality of other people’s physics. They’ve been working on their theory for what, 40 years and still no testable predictions? Second of all, Hawking has done plenty of important work in physics as acknowledged by many other physicists, Krauss and Penrose to name just two.

  28. #28 Wow
    December 7, 2011

    “It is simply the denial of God.”

    Nope. There’s no god in atheism.

    Bhuddism is denial of God.

    Christianity is denial of God (of the Jews).

    Belief in any one god is a denial of all the other gods of other faiths and mythologies.

    Atheism is to religion as hole is to wall. A hole isn’t denial of a wall. It’s an absence of wall.

  29. #29 cwfong
    December 7, 2011

    Somebody suggests a bit more positivism and you get all huffy puffy. Nothing new.

  30. #30 Dan L.
    December 7, 2011

    @cwfong:

    The whole point of the Jason’s post is that they are making NO positive answers to the questions they’re asking. What do you think is positive about Hoffman and Berlinerblau’s arguments?

  31. #31 Wow
    December 7, 2011

    He thinks they’re positive for the religionists.

    You know, makes it all the fault of the atheists who should shut up and BELIEVE like they do.

  32. #32 Dan L.
    December 7, 2011

    He thinks they’re positive for the religionists.

    If true, that is pretty silly. If I write an unremittingly negative blog post about white power movements that blog post is not automatically “positive towards ethnic and religious minorities”.

  33. #33 Wow
    December 7, 2011

    It’s not about helping themselves, but putting others down.

    The Nazis had to tear others down to make themselves feel better between the wars because life was hard. And persecution either comes because

    a) they’re bad people and deserved it

    or

    b) they’re better than everyone else and they’re jealous

    So the religionists want to push atheists down to make themselves feel better.

    Remember, a silly explanation is no problem if you’re a believer.

  34. #34 Marty Kay Zee
    December 7, 2011

    Not freedom but rather protection from religion.

  35. #35 Kevin
    December 7, 2011

    Know your numbers? Really? When faced with a Catholic church that denies that any members of its congregation drop out? If you want to officially de-list yourself as a Catholic, you have to go through a myriad of hoops, none of which are guaranteed to get you off the list.

    And what about the Mormons pre-emptively adding people to their rolls after they’ve DIED!

    Geez, of all the stupidities I’ve heard as a criticism against atheism, that one has to be among the most egregiously mind-numbingly sophomoric.

    A “tu quoque” logical fallacy.

    I’m certainly glad these guys have day jobs that allow them to get paid for writing this drivel. I’d hate to see how they fared out in the real world.

  36. #36 Another Matt
    December 7, 2011

    It’s kind of what I suspect, but maybe J Quinton has an example otherwise.

    I think if you’ve ever seen a debate with Dinesh D’Souza or read anything by Edward Feser, you’ve seen the “you atheists think you’re so smart but I’m here to tell you that’s just empty elitism because you never stopped to consider X” attitude.

  37. #37 eric
    December 7, 2011

    I think if you’ve ever seen a debate with Dinesh D’Souza or read anything by Edward Feser, you’ve seen the “you atheists think you’re so smart but I’m here to tell you that’s just empty elitism because you never stopped to consider X” attitude.

    Which is incredibly self-destructive towards the Christianity they are trying to defend, if you stop and think about it. There’s 2.1 billion Christians in the world. Probably less than 1% have read all the stuff D’Souza or Feser would claim is important. If a belief-decision is unwarranted until a person is that informed, then they should be arguing against ‘hasty’ adopters of theism, not just hasty atheists. This would, of course, require them to argue against 99% of believers. But they aren’t going to do that: the ‘you aren’t informed enough’ line is just that, a rhetorical line. They don’t believe it themselves and they certainly don’t apply it to their co-religionists.

  38. #38 Hamilton Jacobi
    December 7, 2011

    Much in the way that anonymous bald men on the street feel a sense of solidarity with one another

    Speaking as an anonymous bald man, I must say that Berlinerblau is spouting utter nonsense here. I have not the slightest sense of solidarity with other bald men; they’re just other guys I haven’t met and don’t know.

    Berlinerblau seems to have built up a fictitious inner world in which he knows exactly what bald men, atheists, and everyone else is thinking. It has about as much connection with reality as the 1960′s Batman TV series.

  39. #39 Kristine
    December 7, 2011

    I cannot even get through this essay; it is garbled, and I cannot discern what his point is.

    My atheism is, as I keep reminding believers, the least interesting thing about me. It’s just a fact about me. It is not comparable to the religious faith that believers hold. It is not something that I adopted; it is something that I discovered that I was, even before I learned the word.

    And in fact, I used the word “mystery” just yesterday while writing my latest article. However, for me, mysteries are meant to be solved, not to be exploited in ridiculous online essays that reveal the writer’s bloated narcissism.

  40. #40 Nilou
    December 7, 2011

    “Mystery” is not a state to be enjoyed or celebrated like a good wine or a raven-haired woman with haunting and troubled eyes:”

    Lucky lady.

  41. #41 Anton Mates
    December 7, 2011

    They eschew mystery, unless it’s connected to a telescopic lens or an electron microscope or a neutrinometer at the Hadron Collider at CERN. “Mystery” is not a state to be enjoyed or celebrated like a good wine or a raven-haired woman with haunting and troubled eyes:

    Attention, ladies. If you have life problems, please go and stress out about them in front of R. Joseph Hoffman He wants to…enjoy and celebrate you. Like wine. Hot dark-haired chicks only, please!

    Glaring Misconception 1: Atheist identity is timelessly stable and consistent. There is basically one way to be an atheist and it has been operative since the days of the Athenian polis.

    Well, apparently if you try to be an atheist in a non-Berlinerblau-approved way, you’re a small-minded Marxist overheated malcontent, so I don’t know why he thinks this is a misconception.

    Also, this bit:

    Why can’t those who have doubts about God but remain affiliated in some way with a religion be included in the big tent? Conversely, why can’t those who have no religion (see below) but some type of spiritual or faith commitment enter the movement as well? Why can’t skeptics and agnostics join the club? What about heretics and apostates? In short, democratic mobilization requires numbers. Atheism needs numbers, accurate numbers. . .

    and this bit:

    To this day extreme atheists in America estimate their numbers in the tens of millions. The error often stems from a misreading of various American Religious Identification Surveys. Those studies discovered growing numbers of “nones” or people who professed no religion.

    Atheist ideologues routinely assume that the “nones” are atheists and hence conclude that they represent roughly 15 percent of the American population. The mistake is not only baffling, especially for a cohort that prizes itself on empirical precision, but disastrous to the strategic vision of American atheism.

    seem completely contradictory to me. Nonreligious people should be part of the atheist movement, but anyone who includes them in the atheist movement is making a “baffling mistake?” What?

    For what it’s worth, the ARIS 2008 survey found that about 2.3% of American adults are professed strong atheists (“there is no such thing as God”, 10% are professed agnostics (“not sure” or “there is no way to know,”), 12.1% claim to believe in a higher power but not a personal God, and 6.1% refused to answer the question.

    That’s at least 5 million confirmed atheists, and the true number could easily be the tens of millions if a significant chunk of the agnostics and the refused-to-answer folks are atheists. Which seems pretty likely to me.

  42. #42 Supero
    December 7, 2011

    So, this guy thinks that Stephen Hawking is nothing more than “a freak in a wheelchair” and that string theory has the answers?

    Sorry to break it to you, but string theory has very few falsifiable premises along with a deficit of evidence. It would be interesting to meet these physicists who laugh at Stephen Hawkins in private while promoting what is essentially an unholy combination of a protoscience and a philosophy.

    Don’t get me wrong; string theory could be found correct in the next few years. Even still, in the meantime, who is going to defend it? The most famous proponent of the theory in popular media would be Dr. Michio Kaku; he is fairly brilliant when it comes to his specialty, but he tends to flounder like a fish out of water when he gets outside of it.

    (As proof, here is a embarrassing quote from the good doctor: ” In outer space there is no friction and no gravity.”)

  43. #43 SLC
    December 8, 2011

    On the subject of string “theory”, I think that, at the present time, it is incorrect to label it a scientific theory. It is more correctly labeled a scientific hypothesis. It is a branch of mathematics which may or may not have application to physics (the jury is still out on that).

  44. #44 MosesZD
    December 8, 2011

    or being a small idea (whatever that even means)

    I can answer that!!! A small idea is one that is no longer dominated by certain parts of the blowhard academician, pretentious gas-bags or the ‘betters’ of the ‘upper-class’ social-circles who use such ideas to buttress their pretensions of “I’m better than you.”

    Once the hoi-polloi get there hands on it, it’s no longer cool. Therefore, it’s a ‘small idea.’ Instead of the ‘big idea’ it used to be…

  45. #45 Wow
    December 8, 2011

    Except, Moses, I AM better than you.

    For example, I don’t need a cop-in-the-sky watching me to keep me honest and civilised.

  46. #46 Onkel Bob
    December 8, 2011

    The middle of which century? The 1950s saw the introduction of God to our money and the Pledge of Allegiance.

    Half right. It is true the Pledge of Allegiance was modified in the 1950′s. However, In God We Trust was added to U.S. coinage in 1863 at the urging and directive of Salmon Chase. Apparently we didn’t trust God with our money until then.

    Interestingly, the motto or word that has been on nearly every US coin is “Liberty.” The lone exception is the flying eagle cent of 1856-8.

  47. #47 JM
    December 8, 2011

    Most people are going to be mediocre (or worse). To complain that there are too many mediocre atheists is identical to the claim that there are too many atheists, period. Of course, theists never wring their hands because too many people of only average intelligence (or worse) are believers. I’m all for little idea, mediocre atheism. Why not?

  48. #48 Brett Ridoux
    December 8, 2011

    This blog was interesting for a short time then got tired and non-sensical. Atheism is minimalized because you haven’t reinvented yourselves in a long time. Since you’ve stuck with the socialist, communist, anti-education, anti-family, Kensian economics thing which is now proven a failure all over the world, you need to find something new. Many people want to be fooled and if you come up with new theories that can’t be proven and force them though the media and schools you still stand a chance.

  49. #49 Wow
    December 8, 2011

    “Atheism is minimalized”

    What do you mean by that? Marginalised? Retreating? What?

    PS if you want to talk about “not reinventing yourselves”, xtianity is nearly 2000 years old and STILL thinks that their God is the one in the bible…

    “Since you’ve stuck with the socialist”

    You DO know that JC was demanding a lot of socialism, don’t you? That he’d be a socialist today, right?

    “anti-education”

    Snrk.

    Have I been poe’d?

    “anti-family”

    Whu? How does this follow? I have a family. I love them.

    “Kensian economics thing”

    You mean that economic theory that all the most religious Republican senators INSIST is the one and ONLY way to go?

    This ought to tell you that economic beliefs aren’t atheist ones, the two systems are independent of each other.

    “Many people want to be fooled”

    This may be the problem. We’re not willing to fool them, we want to give them the truth as far as it can be known, even if the resulting freedom is frightening to them after the comforting certainties of religious dogmatic certainties.

    But the rest of it looks like I’ve been poe’d.

  50. #50 Ophelia Benson
    December 8, 2011

    It’s always frustrating to read people like Hoffmann and Berlinerblau. You have to wade through an awful lot of pompous academic puffery before you can even try to discern a point.

    Really. And it’s not even as if they have to – it’s not as if it’s a requirement of their disciplines. They could perfectly well write clear, lucid, substantive argument – but they always go for this preening empty bafflegab instead. I don’t see why.

  51. #51 atc
    December 20, 2011

    Religion probably will eventually become a hobby. All its rituals and stories will be something for people to do and recount for the fun of it.

  52. #52 Whicket Williams
    December 31, 2011

    You either believe God, or you don’t. If you don’t, you lose all claim to being an intellectual, by this obviously foolish decision, on the face of all the evidence.

  53. #53 Owlmirror
    December 31, 2011

    Obvious troll is obvious.

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