Respectful Insolence

Yesterday, I expressed my displeasure over a truly idiotic press release by the Center for Inquiry over the “Ground Zero mosque” entitled The Center for Inquiry Urges That Ground Zero Be Kept Religion-Free. I happen to know that a lot of supporters of CFI were very unhappy about the press release as well, because apparently the president of CFI, Ron Lindsay, is feeling the heat. Because I wrote to him complaining, I received the following mass response:

Thank you for providing us with your comments concerning the recent press release issued by the Center for Inquiry on the Ground Zero controversy. I apologize for this mass response, but time constraints prevent me from responding personally to all the points raised in each of your emails.

All of you shared a concern that the statement appeared to be calling for a legal ban or some other impediment that would prevent houses of worship from being placed near Ground Zero. That was not the intent of the statement and we regret any misunderstanding. As the release stated, but apparently not clearly enough, CFI fully supports the free exercise of religion.

A revised statement has been prepared and we hope to have it issued later today.

Regards,
Ron Lindsay

Can anyone completely miss the point more dramatically? Also, for someone who heads up an organization dedicated to skepticism and critical thinking, Mr. Lindsay sure does like the straw man argument.

No, no, no, a thousand times no. That was not the basis of my complaint, nor was it the basis of the complaints of pretty much anyone I corresponded with about this. In fact, in my post, I pointed out that the only good thing about the woefully misguided CFI press release was that it explicitly pointed out that CFI did not support government action to stop the Park51 Islamic center project, known by its opponents as the “Ground Zero mosque.” Our complaint was that CFI had gone Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin one better. Not content with emulating them by implicitly equating all Muslims with Muslim extremist terrorists, the CFI press release implicitly equated all religious people with religious extremist terrorists–after having condemned opponents of the Islamic center for equating all Muslims with Muslim terrorists.

I do not have high hopes for the “revised” press release. I’m also rapidly coming to the conclusion that Ron Lindsay just doesn’t get it and that as long as he’s in charge of CFI, the organization is well and truly screwed. He appears to want to turn CFI into an atheist organization, and that is not what I signed on for. I want to be pro-science, pro-reason, and pro-critical thinking. I don’t want to be anti-religion, but that’s where Mr. Lindsay appears to want to take CFI.

ADDENDUM: The CFI has issued a revised statement. Besides evidence of this being amateur hour (what kind of incompetent organization releases an idiotic press release like the original and then is forced to revise it in such shame?), it’s only marginally better than the original. My favorite part is the introduction:

The statement issued by the Center for Inquiry on Friday, August 27 concerning the Ground Zero controversy was interpreted by some as calling for a prohibition on the placement of mosques or other houses of worship near Ground Zero or otherwise speaking out against freedom of religion. That was not the intent of the statement and we regret any misunderstanding.

Of course, what sort of incompetent writes something that can be so radically “misinterpreted”? Or perhaps the original statement is what CFI really meant, and the revision is an embarrassed retreat, tail between legs. In any case, I suppose I should be happy that CFI at least took out the language that, well, called for no more new houses of worship near Ground Zero, the introduction notwithstanding, as well as the language that equated all religious people to religious terrorists. Now, all the new statement does is say that it does not consider houses of worship to be of benefit to humanity, either at Ground Zero or elsewhere. In fact, come to think of it, CFI went from an original statement about the “Ground Zero mosque” to a statement that has very little to do with Park 51 at all. It would have been better off just retracting its original statement.

Can someone get some adult leadership over at CFI?

Comments

  1. #1 mk
    August 29, 2010

    For the record… Jerry Coyne doesn’t get it either. It’s all very depressing.

  2. #2 Roy Natian
    August 29, 2010

    Agreed. It’s rather frustrating to CFI send out such a press release when I know so many supporters of CFI don’t support such a message.

    I urge everyone to go ahead and contact CFI and voice their displeasure. Let’s try to get CFI back on track, so to speak.

  3. #3 Rene Najera
    August 29, 2010

    Agree with you on all points. There is a difference, in my opinion, between being an atheist and being and anti-theist, between someone who just doesn’t believe in deities or higher authorities and someone who is biased and critical and just plain mean to people who do.

  4. #4 Michael Meadon
    August 29, 2010

    Lindsay has screwed up quite a few times now…

  5. #5 oldcola
    August 29, 2010

    I don’t have much hope for a clearly atheistic CFI, not with fellows openly theistic and working to support the godly moral law. Alternatives exist and if one feels inclined so he can opt for both.

    Your displeasure about CFI’s press release seems to be centered around what you see as a confusion between “muslims” and “muslim terrorists”. What about Islam as a religion? Not people in particular, but the religion itself with it’s dogmas and prescriptions of how to behave.
    I suppose it would be hard to extend the discussion to religions in general, monotheistic or not, so your opinion just about Islam would be appreciated. If you need some basics about Islam before answering the link may be helpful.

  6. #6 Skeptico
    August 29, 2010

    I agreed with you on their incoherent argument about the mosque, but I’m afraid you’re losing me on your last sentence. If CFI is supposed to be pro-reason, and pro-critical thinking, how could it not be anti-religion? Using critical thinking, how do you get to accept any of the beliefs of the world’s major religions?

  7. #7 Gregory James
    August 29, 2010

    “I want to be pro-science, pro-reason, and pro-critical thinking. I don’t want to be anti-religion…”

    Pretty hard to be one and not the other, though. I guess you just don’t like “mean” atheists… You know… the ones that bluntly point it the inherent incompatibility of reason and religion.

  8. #8 Sivi
    August 29, 2010

    I certainly have no problem with CFI Transnat being an atheist organization. It should be capable or recognizing, though, that we do have to live with religious people, and in many cases in religious societies.

    I’m more annoyed at the ‘sympathy for the victims’ thing, as though Islam were the sole cause of 9/11, and at the stubborn refusal to acknowledge that there are already plenty of religious buildings (and strip clubs, malls, etc) both near this site and near sites of other terrorist attacks as well.

    Given that the CFI Transnat is supposed to have a strong devotion to free speech I would have thought they’d come out differently on this issue.

  9. #9 Orac
    August 29, 2010

    I agreed with you on their incoherent argument about the mosque, but I’m afraid you’re losing me on your last sentence. If CFI is supposed to be pro-reason, and pro-critical thinking, how could it not be anti-religion?

    You mean you think it’s OK for CFI to be anti-religion to the point of equating all religious people with religious terrorists like the 9/11 attackers?

    Let’s just put it this way. I support reason and critical thinking, and I don’t care much about religion except when it directly impacts that. Yes, I went through a brief Dawkinesque period back around the time of The God Delusion (although even back then I thought Sam Harris was a wanker), but I’m all better now. I guess that would make me in your eyes one of those horrible, wishy-washy “accommodationists.” Deal with it. It’s not as if that revelation is new news or anything.

  10. #10 Orac
    August 29, 2010

    Pretty hard to be one and not the other, though. I guess you just don’t like “mean” atheists… You know… the ones that bluntly point it the inherent incompatibility of reason and religion.

    No, more like I don’t like atheists who are dumb enough to equate all religious people with religious terrorists, as Ron Lindsay did in the CFI press release. Such statements just go to demonstrate conclusively that atheism does not equal reason and critical thinking.

  11. #11 Xplodyncow
    August 29, 2010

    Why did CFI even issue a press release (or whatever) on this manufactroversy? Doesn’t that give it an air of legitimacy it doesn’t deserve?

    Sidebar: I’ve never worked for a non-profit, so I don’t know how one operates, but it seems a little irresponsible of CFI to rely heavily on an anonymous donor every year.

  12. #12 Skeptico
    August 29, 2010

    You mean you think it’s OK for CFI to be anti-religion to the point of equating all religious people with religious terrorists like the 9/11 attackers?

    No clearly not, since I disagreed with the CFI article. What I said was, if CFI is supposed to be pro-reason, and pro-critical thinking, I don’t see how could it not be anything but anti-religion. That doesn’t mean they have to think all religious people are terrorists. It means that if they are pro-reason and pro-critical thinking, they should also be atheist. Unless they can explain how they get to accept any of the beliefs of the world’s major religions using reason and critical thinking.

    Let’s just put it this way. I support reason and critical thinking, and I don’t care much about religion except when it directly impacts that.

    If you don’t want CFI to be anti-religion, then it seems to me you do care about religion.

  13. #13 The Science Pundit
    August 29, 2010

    Not that you were intentionally implying it, but not all explicitly atheist organizations feel the way Ron Lindsay and Sam Harris do. The problem is not that Lindsay wants to turn the CFI into an atheist organization, but that he’s siding with bigotry.

  14. #14 mk
    August 29, 2010

    Being pro reason and critical thinking might lead one to atheism, but not necessarily make one anti-religion. I am not religious, but I am not anti-religious.

  15. #15 Orac
    August 29, 2010

    Precisely.

  16. #16 Lawrence
    August 29, 2010

    People should be allowed to believe what they want to believe – as long as they don’t try to force other people to believe that way as well. Unfortunately, like mass political movements, mass religious movements can be easily hijacked by extremists to support whatever wacked-out agenda they want to support (whether it be anti-science, anti-protestant or anti-cathlotic, or ant-everybody who isn’t like me).

    There are problem on all sides, whether it be secular or religious movements through the ages. In this particular case, we have basically a non-issue being turned into a huge national issue for ratings & political capital. It turns my stomach that people can be walked or talked into a controversy – accepting whatever their favorite talk show hosts spews, without checking any of the facts.

    Disgusting in general.

  17. #17 a-non
    August 29, 2010

    Kudos to CFI for making the Glenn Beck crowd look like paragons of religious tolerance, although they both subscribe the most blatant of logical fallacies:

    1. The terrorists that attacked the U.S. on 9/11 were Muslims.

    2. Therefore, all Muslims are evil.

    In the case of the Glenn Limbaughs of the world, I think you can clearly argue that the motivation for opposing the cultural center is political with a dash of tapping into anti-Muslim sentiment. In CFI’s case, they’re willing to play into this mindset by making the case that ALL religion is inherently evil.

    Amazingly, CFI’s position looks even worse that the Tea Partiers, which is astounding to me.

  18. #18 squirrelelite
    August 29, 2010

    @Skeptico,

    I think it’s more a matter of choosing which battle you want to devote your efforts to fighting.

    There is a weird and complex Venn diagram overlap among scientists, skepticists, atheists, and some people who choose to maintain some religious beliefs. (but not young earth creationists, for instance)

    Orac, I think, has decided that supporting the scientific method to study nature, medicine, and the universe and using the skeptical approach to analyze and refine the results of those studies is more important than disputing over questions which science can neither prove the truth nor the falsehood of.

    At least, that is the view that I would espouse.

    Others, such as P.Z. Myers and Richard Dawkins and, apparently, yourself, have decided that since science cannot prove the existence of a non-human, extraterrestrial being with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men (a deity in other words), that no such being exists and any belief or even hope for such a thing is incompatible with science and must be ridiculed and otherwise opposed.

    A bit of an overstatement perhaps, but I think it is consistent with their choices and actions.

    I decided many years ago that I did not think God created the universe as a cosmic lie and I chose to learn about science so that I could learn more about the underlying truths of that universe than was understood two or three thousand years ago.

    I am still sorting out the consequences of that choice, but I have not found it to be inconsistent with some religious views yet.

    Is skepticism completely incompatible with speculation?

  19. #19 halfdeaddavid
    August 29, 2010

    meh I have no problem with most religious people, because most of them don’t actually believe their own religious texts.

    Its the people who actually read understand and fully believe in their heart of hearts that the books they are reading are “the infallable word of god” that are dangerous. If only there was some way we could identify which were which.

  20. #20 Colugo
    August 29, 2010

    This shows the extent to which Harris-Dawkins style New Atheism has come to dominate the secular humanist and skeptical movements. Anti-theism is emphasized above all else; for example, the awarding of the Richard Dawkins award to Bill Mahr for being anti-religious even though he’s a huge woo-meister.

    Here’s my theory on the rise of New Atheism: a lot of atheists experienced a big surge of testosterone in the wake of Dover – a ruling due to a Republican judge and, in no small part, a Catholic biologist.

    Before CFI’s statement the only other public call (that I know of) to not have any new houses of worship in the area around Ground Zero was a Muslim woman whose mother was killed in the 9/11 attacks. That was borne out of trauma rather than a smug, implacable hostility to all faiths.

    One of the buildings destroyed on 9/11 was a small Orthodox church. Should that be restored to undo the actions of the terrorists? Or should we, as good skeptical rationalist secular humanists, be glad that it’s gone because it was a goddamn house of worship?

    Here’s my question to CFI: is belief in and yearning for The Singularity a religion? Why the hell not? And that would apply to other brands of transhumanism as well.

  21. #21 Skeptico
    August 29, 2010

    mk:

    Being pro reason and critical thinking might lead one to atheism, but not necessarily make one anti-religion. I am not religious, but I am not anti-religious.

    Being pro reason and critical thinking might lead one to disbelieve in homeopathy, but not necessarily make one anti-homeopathy. I am not a believer in homeopathy, but I am not anti-homeopathy.

    Tell me, why is it that the pseudo-sciences / irrational beliefs you do not agree with are OK to oppose, but religion gets a free pass?

    squirrelelite

    Others, such as P.Z. Myers and Richard Dawkins and, apparently, yourself, have decided that since science cannot prove the existence of a non-human, extraterrestrial being with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men (a deity in other words), that no such being exists and any belief or even hope for such a thing is incompatible with science and must be ridiculed and otherwise opposed.

    The straw men are getting well beaten up in this thread.

    No, I have decided that since there is no evidence to support the claims of the major religions, it is inconsistent with the methods of critical thinking and skepticism to be religious. I wish to promote critical thinking and skepticism by applying it to all truth claims, no free passes.

    Is skepticism completely incompatible with speculation?

    Oh come on, religion goes beyond speculation. Religious people have decided to belief despite no evidence. That is not skepticism and it is not critical thinking.

  22. #22 Vicki
    August 29, 2010

    I am an atheist, and I think they’re missing the point. Freedom of speech and religion are, in part, about the right to be wrong. Not all religions are true (they can’t all be, they disagree on too much), but it’s not the government’s business to tell you which, if any, to follow. Not all political speeches are true, and the same applies.

    Banning all Muslims, or all religious people, from the area around Ground Zero is about as reasonable as banning all men. We don’t actually know what the attackers believed (people change their minds, and lie); we do know they were all male.

    Also, to go back to Orac’s other point, there is a major difference between sending out a mass email that addresses all the points made, and one that answers the argument you know how to refute even though it’s not the one that someone is making.

  23. #23 halfdeaddavid
    August 29, 2010

    “Being pro reason and critical thinking might lead one to disbelieve in homeopathy, but not necessarily make one anti-homeopathy. I am not a believer in homeopathy, but I am not anti-homeopathy.”

    The only proper response to this straight from the SGU.

    OHHH YEAHHH?!?

  24. #24 Travis
    August 29, 2010

    Ugh, it continues. *sigh*

    I have gone to a few events that were aided by CFI and I have never been that comfortable with them. In general I found the events populated by people quite a bit right of myself but also many of them seemed to be poor critical thinkers. Which is terrible when it is supposed to be a group promoting such things.

    It is not even the anti-theist issue that bothers me. I think you can be anti-theist and still realise people should have the right to be religious, and that their position on this issue is silly and unprincipaled. I am about as strident an atheist as PZ is, and I might even say I am ant-theist as well as I do think it is a bad thing, but my thoughts on this specific issue are the same as Vicki’s.

    Once and a while I think about going out to some of the local events, this is making it even less likely I will do so.

  25. #25 G.Shelley
    August 29, 2010

    I suppose it depends in whether the CFI is an atheistic organisation. If not (as I had believed), then the statement is entirely inappropriate. If it is, then it would come down to the specific policies of the organisation, and the purpose – if it is to specifically counter religion’s influence or to campaign and promote a more secular society.

  26. #26 Chris
    August 29, 2010

    You articulated my thoughts about the “mass response” precisely.

  27. #27 SocraticGadfly
    August 29, 2010

    CFI’s “clarification” e-mail shows that:
    A. It still doesn’t “get it” and
    B. It already misses Mistah Kurtz.

    I could go beyond CFI and say that any organization concerned with metaphysical matters, even the denial of them, shouldn’t be in the vicinity of Ground Zero.

    And, note to Orac, Harris ain’t just a wanker, he’s a religious wanker disingenuously trying to prove Buddhism isn’t a religion!

  28. #28 Zipi
    August 29, 2010

    Mr. Lindsay sure does like the straw man argument.

    Orac, I see no straw man argument. CFI has received complaints from many members. They have crafted a mass response addressing what they saw as the main issue. Could it be that the main problem you had with the original statement was different from the main problem most members had? They certainly have addressed my complaint with their new statement. I am still not satisfied, but that is a different question.

  29. #29 MI5
    August 29, 2010

    I agree. The response doesn’t really address the original problem (equating all religious people with mass murderers). Again, what does that make Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa or Martin Luther King? Are you saying they were terrorists too? Should we ban images of Martin Luther King because the guy was a clergyman?

    I don’t like vast sweeping generalizations that encompass billions of people — in fact, I think they’re downright ludicrous. Whether you are religious or not religious, equating religious people with homicidal fanatics is just as bizarre as equating all atheists with Joseph Stalin or Mao Tse-Tung. There are good religious people and bad religious people, just as there are good atheists and bad atheists. At the end of the day, the important question is not are you religious or are you atheist, the important question is do you share a commitment to freedom of speech, equality of opportunity regardless of beliefs, race, gender or sexual orientation, and tolerance for all? If you share that commitment, I’m with you. If you don’t share that commitment, you are the problem.

    The crazy thing about all this is that it’s a controversy manufactured for political gain by the right-wing zealots who constitute the single greatest threat to freedom and tolerance in our country. They’re trying to equate all Muslims with terrorists, which is crazy. And just in order to go them one better, CFI has to step in and try to equate all religious people with terrorists, which makes even less sense than what the Palinites are saying.

  30. #30 T. Bruce McNeely
    August 29, 2010

    What upsets me is the crass opportunism of this press release: “Ooh! Controversy! Let’s get some free publicity for our cause!”

    The “Mosque at Ground Zero” freakout is a hysterical reaction based on fear and bigotry. To take advantage of it only supports this hysteria. It’s also stupid because it offends a lot of potential supporters. Maybe the CFI is in line with its principals with this press release. However, it is also very dumb.

  31. #31 Mooloo
    August 29, 2010

    Being pro reason and critical thinking might lead one to atheism, but not necessarily make one anti-religion. I am not religious, but I am not anti-religious.

    What is it about this formulation that is hard for American atheists to understand?

    Other cultures seem to manage it. Indeed it is the default position in many of them (say, Japan and Sweden).

    It seems to me that US atheists are, ummm, more devout in their atheism. I suppose it is a washover from the whole US thing of taking religion all too seriously.

    Being pro reason and critical thinking might lead one to disbelieve in homeopathy, but not necessarily make one anti-homeopathy. I am not a believer in homeopathy, but I am not anti-homeopathy.

    Strictly speaking, this is possible. Unlikely that a strong rationalist would think this, because homeopathy is so unlikely from a scientific point of view, but I would not automatically damn any believer in homeopathy as a moron, with no credible views on anything. If you take that line you will find you have very few friends, as most people believe something or other that isn’t entirely scientific.

    What is important is that the pro-reasoning person would accept that others might doubt homeopathy. And that their position might change with other evidence. This is where your line parts with the analogous position of the religious, and is therefore flawed. A religious person will assert, usually, that they are right once and forever.

    Being critical and open-minded is not about what you believe. It is about the basis for your decisions, the ability to understand that they might be wrong, and the acceptance that others may be right.

  32. #32 MadScientist
    August 29, 2010

    “Muslim extremist terrorists”? Personally, I prefer those moderate terrorists – they’re really nice people once they get to rule over you. I agree that the extremist terrorists are horrible people.

    It took a while to convince me that the CFI actually issued that statement. It reminds me of phrases like: “I have some Jewish friends but …”, “I have some black friends, but …”, “I don’t hate Jews but …” It’s a real WTF moment and I’m extremely disappointed with the CFI. Actually, a number of things the CFI has done in the past 2 years have really pissed me off.

  33. #33 Passerby
    August 29, 2010

    Being pro-reason and practicing critical-thinking might lead one to question religious dogma, religious intolerance by believer and nonbeliever, and to explore agnosticism or atheism, but it need not necessarily make one anti-religion.

    While I am neither religious in the conventional sense, nor a-religious, I am not anti-religious.

    You may have stellar values, and not require religious code to clarify and reinforce personal and community morals and ethical conduct, but when the shit hits the fan during times of local disaster, when the thin veil of local civilian and martial law enforcement and emergency response goes from thin to nonexistent, you will want the majority to have behavioral controls that maximize productive group effort for recovery, and minimize anarchy.

  34. #34 J. J. Ramsey
    August 29, 2010

    Skeptico [in sarcasm mode]: “Being pro reason and critical thinking might lead one to disbelieve in homeopathy, but not necessarily make one anti-homeopathy. I am not a believer in homeopathy, but I am not anti-homeopathy.”

    The problem is that the analogy between homeopathy and religion breaks down just where you need it to hold. Homeopathy is a well-defined practice that is pretty much always harmful, at least in the sense of being a substitute for real medicine. Religion covers a wide range of practices, ranging from the blatantly virulent to the benign. One can easily be a nonbeliever while not being against religion in general, since one can easily be apathetic about its more benign strains.

  35. #35 skeptifem
    August 29, 2010

    Pretty hard to be one and not the other, though. I guess you just don’t like “mean” atheists… You know… the ones that bluntly point it the inherent incompatibility of reason and religion

    I am one of the mean ones. I think the banning of any religious building from property that is open for other people is absolutely wrong. This has nothing to do with being for or against religion and everything to do with being for FAIRNESS. It isn’t fair that muslims cannot build a building there but a strip club can (and there is a strip club the same distance away as the proposed building, btw). What is especially unfair is how much discrimination people of middle eastern heritage and muslims have faced unfairly post 911, this is another move that serves to oppress marginalized people who have done nothing wrong.

    Not to mention I have never heard any of the mean atheists assert that their goal is to muscle believers into submission, taking away their rights or any other such nonsense. Generally things are framed as hoping for a triumph of REASON, as in people change their minds voluntarily, not because the government banned religion. Banning religion doesn’t even work, people just find some other figure to worship or develop non theistic superstitions. It doesn’t do any good.

    I don’t know why people keep calling it a mosque- from what I understand it is a community center that is being built by people who promote unity and understanding between jews and muslims.

  36. #36 SC (Salty Current)
    August 29, 2010

    (equating all religious people with mass murderers). Again, what does that make…Mother Theresa…?

    She and the Vatican made themselves opponents of basic human sexual and reproductive rights (which has resulted in the suffering and deaths of millions of people). She made herself a friend and supporter of the Duvaliers – mass murderers. (The Vatican has been friend and supporter to and collaborator with more murderous dictatorships in the past century than I have time to list here, but I will if you’d like.)

    Other cultures seem to manage it. Indeed it is the default position in many of them (say, Japan and Sweden).

    1) Can you think of any differences between the US and Sweden?

    2) Nevertheless, if Swedish people don’t oppose any religious organizations, they’re ignorant or immoral.

  37. #37 SC (Salty Current)
    August 29, 2010

    All of you shared a concern that the statement appeared to be calling for a legal ban or some other impediment that would prevent houses of worship from being placed near Ground Zero. That was not the intent of the statement and we regret any misunderstanding.

    Huh?

    CFI also holds that the focus of the protests is too narrow; it would be inappropriate to build any new house of worship in the area immediately around Ground Zero, not just mosques.

  38. #38 Bronze Dog
    August 29, 2010

    I’m another “mean” atheist, and I agree fully with skeptifem.

    The First Amendment is as much about us as it is about the minority religions. We need protection from the danger of government overstepping our rights just as much as they do. We can argue that atheism isn’t a religion, but that won’t stop the crazy fundies in positions of power trying to trample on our rights to build atheist/agnostic/freethinker/whatever clubs, post stuff on billboards, etcetera.

    If we don’t allow the Muslims their constitutional rights, we’re setting the precedent for the future trampling of our rights as atheists. Fairness is what this is about.

  39. #39 Harry Eagar
    August 29, 2010

    So, no new houses of worship. Is CFI cool with letting Trinity Church stay there?

    If new ones are bad, in what way are old ones less bad?

  40. #40 DrWonderful
    August 29, 2010

    Orac- I found this post to be very informative. I learned a lot about you here and will need to adjust the book on you a little. You’re still a bit of a douche (dare I say dickish?) but this changes my perspective slightly. For the better I might add.

  41. #41 jenbphillips
    August 29, 2010

    I’m yet another mean atheist, echoing skeptifem and Bronze Dog. First Amendment rules. End of discussion. This was Epic PR fail for the LIndsey-run CFI and will likely result in the termination of my support. There’s enough demagoguery in the mix already, damn it.

  42. #42 Melody
    August 29, 2010

    Has everyone read the clarification? As an employee and as someone who wrote in to complain about the original press release (and promised to write a public letter of dissent), I’m very happy with the revised press release. I can’t believe that those who were so quick to condemn CFI as a whole are knowledgable about all of the good work CFI does around the world. I also think that some people jumped the gun on vowing to never to support the organization again without writing in and waiting to see an official public response. The original press release was a mistake and it is understood to be so by Ron Lindsay and the management committee. Speak up and be heard!

  43. #43 Orac
    August 29, 2010

    Yes, I’ve read the clarification. It’s marginally better. At least CFI got rid of the parts equating all religious people with religious terrorists and its call for no new houses of worship near Ground Zero, after its preamble claiming that it never intended to imply that it believed that there should be no new houses of worship at Ground Zero. (If they didn’t intend that, why did they say it? The writing on that score was very clear, as muddled as the rest of the press release was.)

    Freedom from belief is not possible without freedom of belief, as far as I’m concerned. I’m not sure that CFI agrees with that anymore, at least not if this press release is any indication.

  44. #44 SC (Salty Current)
    August 29, 2010

    I also think that some people jumped the gun on vowing to never to support the organization again without writing in and waiting to see an official public response.

    Maybe CfI jumped the gun with the first blundering press release? It’s very reasonable to rethink or withdraw support for an organization that would make such a rights-averse statement.

    The original press release was a mistake and it is understood to be so by Ron Lindsay and the management committee.

    Are you going to address what Orac said?

    Speak up and be heard!

    Bite me.

    I supported many of the actions of CfI, especially the suuport of human rights. The response to recent critical inquiry concerning Mooney and the Tom Johnson affair on the forums led me to lose a great deal of respect for the organization. That would take some doing to regain.

    CfI isn’t a democracy, and no one’s under any obligation to support it if they feel it isn’t sufficiently committed to our values.

  45. #45 Ichthyic
    August 29, 2010

    Freedom from belief is not possible without freedom of belief, as far as I’m concerned.

    it entirely depends on your definition of “freedom”, and from what I saw in 46 years as a US citizen, Americans have a very mobbish notion of what “freedom” means.

    sorry, I don’t buy your platitude here, Orac.

    how would you explain it if we replaced the concept of religion with the concept of the free market?

  46. #46 Travis
    August 29, 2010

    Melody,
    Sorry, I do not buy that it was just a mistake. Both the e-mail and the revised release claim it was a misunderstanding and not the intent. But I do not accept this. It was clear what was meant the first time. This was not a simple example of poor wording that can lead to misunderstanding. Now, it is possible this got okayed by someone without them actually reading it and it really was not the official stance of the organization. However that is not a lot better, then it is just incompetent bungling. I suspect CFI meant what it said and got called on it and they were embarrassed by it and decided to change the wording.

    They might do a lot of a good and I would love to support an organization like CFI but I think this points to a deep difference in principals that makes that very difficult for me to do so.

  47. #47 Orac
    August 29, 2010

    how would you explain it if we replaced the concept of religion with the concept of the free market?

    Huh? Methinks you are making an assumption about me. In any case, one might say that the libertarian wing of the atheist movement already does replace religion with the concept of the free market.

  48. #48 Darksmiles
    August 29, 2010

    @Orac, Lies “should” not be told, although they can be legally (in most cases). I thought both CFI releases were clear that buildings for the purpose of encouraging belief in revelation should not be built near Ground Zero in the exact same sense (i.e. morally should not but can be legally). I disagree with CFI only because the statement is opportunistic, plays into the hands of ultraconservatives, and is arbitrary – why should it only be immoral near Ground Zero? I also think CFI could have done a better job explaining why belief without sufficient evidence is a bad thing in the releases.

  49. #49 SC (Salty Current)
    August 29, 2010

    it entirely depends on your definition of “freedom”,

    …how would you explain it if we replaced the concept of religion with the concept of the free market?

    Indeed!

    Of course, free-market fundamentalists and the Vatican have always had a peculiar and idiosyncratic definition of “freedom”….

    http://www.counterpunch.org/grandin11172006.html

    http://www.wsws.org/articles/1999/mar1999/pope-m04.shtml

  50. #50 Darksmiles
    August 29, 2010

    Freedom from belief is not possible without freedom of belief, as far as I’m concerned. I’m not sure that CFI agrees with that anymore, at least not if this press release is any indication. – Orac

    What dribble. Both releases go out of their way to say that the freedom to build houses of worship should remain fully intact. CFI just tries to make the case that it would be immoral to do so. How can you not distinguish between an attack on an act and an attack on the freedom to make that act? For perspective that ACLU people can understand, consider Klan rallies: it’s OK to argue the rally is immoral, but not to argue that it should not be allowed.

  51. #51 SC (Salty Current)
    August 29, 2010

    (My relevant comment is pending.)

    In any case, one might say that the libertarian wing of the atheist movement already does replace religion with the concept of the free market.

    How silly. What possible necessary relationship does neoliberalism have with atheism? None. There are idiot atheist blithertarians. Historically, market fundamentalism has advanced in tandem and collaboration with Christianity.

  52. #52 zoe
    August 29, 2010

    “At the end of the day, the important question is not are you religious or are you atheist, the important question is do you share a commitment to freedom of speech, equality of opportunity regardless of beliefs, race, gender or sexual orientation, and tolerance for all?”

    You cannot believe in the Bible or the Koran and this simultaneously, since they both espouse the opposite in many sections. I am not anti-religious, anti-god, not even an atheist, and yet I am anti-fundamentalist Christian/Muslim. I certainly don’t believe it’s right to equate all religious people with horrific acts, but I also believe that moderates don’t do enough to either condemn extremists or leave the religion altogether.

    Good point about Mother Teresa as well. It’s exactly what I’m talking about. Her implicit or explicit approval of the Catholic position on bc/ condoms has caused many deaths from HIV.

    I certainly have no problem with a mosque near the WTC. But in the back of my mind, I kind of wish there were no more need for mosques or cathedrals, and that reason would take the place of faith.

    Also, keep in mind that some of the reasons given for the attacks were economic and because of US involvement in Israel and Iran, and religion is used as a scapegoat. Like all proclaimed holy wars, analysis needs to go deeper than religion. Religion is often used to manipulate people by leaders in order to “win.”

    I guess 70% of Americans are against the mosque, but I appreciate Orac’s standing up for the rights of religious people. The prejudice against Muslims since 9-11 has been scary and it’s going to get worse. :-(

  53. #53 SC (Salty Current)
    August 29, 2010

    Let’s just put it this way. I support reason and critical thinking, and I don’t care much about religion except when it directly impacts that.

    So the religious impact on human rights? Not a concern?

  54. #54 DLC
    August 29, 2010

    It is possible to be a non-believer and still be one who is tolerant of others.

  55. #55 SC (Salty Current)
    August 29, 2010

    I guess 70% of Americans are against the [mosque],

    Though I think that’s about the percentage of Manhattanites who support the [cultural center*].

    *Really – that’s what it is.

  56. #56 SC (Salty Current)
    August 29, 2010

    The prejudice against Muslims since 9-11 has been scary and it’s going to get worse. :-(

    zoe,

    I linked to this at Butterflies & Wheels earlier today, but you might be interested:

    http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175283/tomgram%3A_stephan_salisbury%2C_extremism_at_ground_zero_%28again%29__/

  57. #57 Melody
    August 29, 2010

    Travis, I had an email exchange with Ron Lindsay himself. My criticisms were taken into consideration, as I’m sure many others were. There was genuine remorse and the revision is sincere.

    I see that once people have made up their minds (even abruptly), they are very reluctant to budge. I’m glad that CFI wasn’t too proud revise their opinion.

  58. #58 SC (Salty Current)
    August 29, 2010

    Melody,

    Is there a “place” on the CfI forums where people are debating this? Thanks.

  59. #59 Travis
    August 29, 2010

    I would really like to know why it was written as it was in the first place. How does something so bone-headed get released? Maybe he personally is remorseful, but someone thought this made sense and allowed it to be released into the wild. And I still see no reason to think they just made a mistake in writing it, that the intent was simply misunderstood. It seemed pretty clear.

  60. #60 SC (Salty Current)
    August 29, 2010

    Ah. Found it (no thanks to Melody): “Count me out: CFI statement on NYC Islamic Center.”

    Suggests to me that the CfI forums have zero impact on important decisions. What does?

  61. #61 skeptifem
    August 29, 2010

    How silly. What possible necessary relationship does neoliberalism have with atheism? None. There are idiot atheist blithertarians. Historically, market fundamentalism has advanced in tandem and collaboration with Christianity.

    Historically what it correlated with has nothing to do with what orac was talking about.

    I have talked to plenty of the sorts of people referred to. I don’t know how you couldn’t have run into them by now.

    They believe in the “invisible hand” of the free market making everything okay all the time, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. Ayn Rand books are the bibles.

    It is a belief in some kind of power that exists without any evidence, and in the face of evidence to the contrary, with evangelical deciples spreading the word. It is woo, and notable atheists spread it around all the time.

  62. #62 jenbphillips
    August 29, 2010

    Melody, for the record, my mind isn’t made up, and pride has nothing to do with it.

    You state “I’m glad that CFI wasn’t too proud to revise their opinion”; However, going by CFI’s own words in the updated statement they didn’t truly revise their position, but only issued the second statement to clarify the content they claim was misunderstood from the original statement. In fact, the revision is quite a bit different in content, and if that had been the substance of the original release, it wouldn’t have gotten a second look. If CFI has truly *revised* its position based on the poor reception of the original, they have done a piss poor job of expressing this. They have, in fact, used the entirely unsavory tactic of attempting to shift the blame onto US for misinterpreting their eminently rational (and, they claim, unaltered in the aftermath) standpoint on this issue. It stinks of bad judgement and bad leadership.

  63. #63 Harry Eagar
    August 29, 2010

    ‘Historically, market fundamentalism has advanced in tandem and collaboration with Christianity.’

    That’s not what Tawney said in ‘Religion and the Rise of Capitalism,’ Salty.

    I am aware that the revisionists at Beck U. teach different, but you will have a hard time finding any competent economic historian to agree with you.

  64. #64 SC (Salty Current)
    August 29, 2010

    Historically what it correlated with has nothing to do with what orac was talking about.

    What?! The fact that Christianity and imperialism/colonialism/market fundamentalism have solidarized for several centuries has nothing to do with it?

    I have talked to plenty of the sorts of people referred to. I don’t know how you couldn’t have run into them by now.

    They believe in the “invisible hand” of the free market making everything okay all the time, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. Ayn Rand books are the bibles.

    It is a belief in some kind of power that exists without any evidence, and in the face of evidence to the contrary, with evangelical deciples spreading the word. It is woo, and notable atheists spread it around all the time.

    This contradicts what I said in no way. (Orac, where’s my post?)

    ***

    That’s not what Tawney said in ‘Religion and the Rise of Capitalism,’ Salty.

    I am aware that the revisionists at Beck U. teach different, but you will have a hard time finding any competent economic historian to agree with you.

    I have not the slightest idea what you’re talking about.

  65. #65 SC (Salty Current)
    August 30, 2010

    Oh, good grief.

    Here are three recommendations:

    The Open Veins of Latin America, Eduardo Galeano
    Late Victorian Holocausts, Mike Davis
    anything at all, Peter Kropotkin or Emma Goldman

    To whom has market fundamentalism been linked? Atheists? Or have we been killed?

    Who cares if there are neoliberal atheists? There are idiots everywhere. The point that I think Ichthyic was making was that no groups of any religious or politico-economic ideology have the right to impose their ideology on others through the state.

  66. #66 Janus
    August 30, 2010

    Yes Orac, there’s absolutely nothing incoherent about being pro-reason but refusing to be anti-self-delusion. *rolls eyes*

  67. #67 EdK
    August 30, 2010

    There are way too many people, even supposedly educated and well-read ones, who confuse acceptance with tolerance. The whole basis of the First Amendment is tolerances. It is a recognition that people will NOT agree with each on questions of belief, but they still must tolerate each other. One example of an action motivated in part by intolerance is 9/11 itself. The Reign of Terror is another.

    There is one thing that my socialist, atheist, Berkley-raised grad school office mate and my bigoted, Rush/Fox spewing redneck brother-in-law have in common: they both become angry and aggressive over the idea that there are people who do not think and believe exactly as they do. Intolerance is a sign of weakness and insecurity.

  68. #68 Gretchen
    August 30, 2010

    The problem with CFI’s statement on the mosque so far as I’m concerned it that it makes it sound like Ground Zero is special. Which, if you genuinely oppose the building of houses of worship anywhere, is manifestly untrue.

    Sure, I’m anti-religion– in the sense that I think religion consists of systematic unjustified misunderstanding of the universe, and I don’t think that systematically misunderstanding anything can ultimately be to our benefit. So I’d be perfectly happy if no house of worship of any kind were ever built again. But that has absolutely nothing to do with Ground Zero, does it? Obviously what makes me happy is not what should dictate what religious people do, and that is true regardless of where they want to do it so long as it’s legal.

    And that’s where it ends– that’s where it has to end, if you support peoples’ right to believe as they see fit. And if you don’t support that, I don’t want you on my team regardless of how much we might agree on religion’s validity or morality, or lack thereof.

  69. #69 jaranath
    August 30, 2010

    Add me to the Skeptifem/Bronze Dog camp. It’s about fairness, and about not painting all believers as the worst of their kind…which is not to say criticism is out.

    I also agree that I’d prefer CFI to be officially neutral, though I have no problem with officially atheistic orgs. But Orac, equating CFI being atheist with being aggressively anti-religious? Assuming that this is the default atheist thing, to do what Lindsay did? Really? Maybe I misunderstood…?

  70. #70 jay.sweet
    August 30, 2010

    I’ve been deeply disillusioned by the reaction of the atheist blogosphere to the Park51 manufacturoversy. A number of people whom I deeply respect have written just really idiotic things about it. It’s very upsetting to me.

    I’m about as anti-religion as they come, and I have no qualms about speaking out against what I perceive to be the particular dangers of Islamic theology. But come on… this thing is a friggin’ YMCA, being built quite a long ways (in Manhattan-esque terms) away from Ground Zero. The opposition to this is absurd. It’s just paranoid jingoist xenophobia being pumped up by Christianist theocratic demagogues, and way too many atheists are buying it.

    There may even be some legitimate criticisms to be made about how Imam Rauf, despite being moderate by Islamic standards, is not “moderate enough” by a more generalized standard. I get that. But now is not the frakkin’ time.

    Actually, the atheist blogosphere’s reaction to this reminds me of my disillusionment with the reaction by many moderate Muslims to the “Danish cartoon controversy”. When people are burning embassies over a stupid cartoon, and the first words out of your mouth are “I find the cartoons offensive but…”, what comes after the “but” has suddenly lost its force. Offensive cartoons are nothing compared to arson and violence. By the same token, criticisms of Imam Rauf’s theology are nothing compared to the kind of mob mentality that is attacking the Park51 project right now. Priorities, people. When you say, “I disapprove of an Islamic center so close to Ground Zero, but…” you come off like a douche right now, even if you respect their legal right to build it. Now is not the time for that. Now is the time to speak out in favor of freedom of religion and against jingoistic paranoia.

    Argh.

  71. #71 jaranath
    August 30, 2010

    Jay sweet: Which blogosphere atheists are you thinking of? I would love to read their arguments. Not I’m not implying anything by the question… Just curious as to their logic.

  72. #72 spanner
    August 30, 2010

    I couldn’t care less about the community center in Manhattan. I don’t live, work, or play there and it’s none of my business. If the people who live there want it, they should have it.
    This CFI “controversy” is funny, though. I have no horse in that race, either, but the folks saying they can’t financially support CFI anymore because of the organization’s press release got me thinking…

    What if Catholics were offended by the Church aiding and abetting pedophilia and stopped giving money to the RCC in protest? What if Evangelicals were offended by the burning of children as witches and stopped giving money to support the African missions where that is happening? What if Mormons decided that they are offended by the notion that their gay family members must be ostracized and stopped tithing to the church that condemns their loved ones?
    Why does it seem entirely reasonable that ORAC and others would withdraw their financial support from an organization like CFI for taking a position they disagree with, while it also seems entirely reasonable that religious folks would continue to financially support organizations which use the money to do real damage to real people? It’s fascinating.

  73. #73 Sivi
    August 30, 2010

    @jay.sweet #70

    Yes, yes, exactly that. And comments by people like Jerry Coyne, and particularly Greg Laden (for whom I have a lot of respect) have been very frustrating for me, given that I feel they ought to know better than that.

    Orac, I have to disagree. I do think critical thinking and reason lead pretty inevitably to atheism, and that skeptics and atheists should be entirely overlapping circles.

  74. #74 John
    August 31, 2010

    As has been pointed out elsewhere, it’s worth repeating that the building is neither a mosque, nor at “ground zero”.

  75. #75 titmouse
    August 31, 2010

    CFI seems to define “religion” as “lies.” Who wouldn’t oppose lies?

    However, “religion” can be a placeholder for “first person data that are uncorroborated or impossible to corroborate.”

    Third person data rules. But life is lived within the first person. And he is often a poor, confused, suffering shmuck about to be hit by a bus.

    If Mr. First Person isn’t trying to fuck up our third person data set, I say we let him have his unverifiable personal experience of “transcendence” or whatever. Why not?

    I can bully you into saying, “2+2=4.” Or I can teach you arithmetic and allow you to figure out the answer for yourself.

    Getting the right answer is important. But the method used to derive that answer is even more important, because all future answers depend upon it.

  76. #76 Richard Ambrose
    September 2, 2010

    Under Ronald Lindsay, CFI has not only made itself eminently worthy of mockery from within and without (as Orac’s piece once again demonstrated), it has lost its only large donor and so has been forced to beg for alms. Lindsay sent out an urgent funding appeal in which he at least discussed the possibility that the funding was cut off because of his and the board’s actions, particularly those offenses against the group’s philosopher and founder, Paul Kurtz, so I will grant him a small amount of credit for that nod to honesty. But the board’s actions were minor compared to Lindsay’s often despicable acts.

    For just one example, Lindsay viciously attacked Kurtz as a “McCarthyite” after Kurtz rightly (in my view) cautioned against the growing dominance of over-aggressive and hate-fueled fundamentalist atheists sowing dissent and fraction at CFI. Fractioning that is clearly evident today, which makes his cautionary message perfectly justified.

    Now, I embraced atheism in college at age 19 at about the same time I subscribed to Skeptical Inquirer and Free Inquiry. I most assuredly was an aggressive, obnoxious, childish fundamentalist atheist at first, much like the proverbial newly converted Christian or non-smoker. Except for the grandiloquent vocabulary, I was just as sophomoric as Christopher Hitchens, just as churlishly crusading as Ronald Lindsay. But as I studied at greater length and depth, I learned subtlety and grasped just how humble I clearly deserved to be. In other words, I grew up.

    Fundamentalist atheists like Lindsay never grew up.

    I’m still an atheist, but now I know that I became so only because my evolved, intrinsic theism happened to be weak enough to permit reason to lead my intellect. It was luck, not mental superiority as fundamentalist atheists insist. Reason and critical thinking also led me to conclude that theism is the default product of natural selection, as Dennet and Boyer have demonstrated. As such, it is both futile and infantile in the extreme to browbeat, ridicule, and trash theists like Lindsay and Hitchens, et al., continue to do in the mindless hope that believers will — or even could — join the ranks of atheists.

    Reason and critical thinking tells us that this is and will remain a world of theists, thus we must be realistic about the impossibility of changing many peoples’ minds. We should seek to persuade believers, not attack them. We should seek out allies, including those who are theists. We can (and must) work to keep theism out of public life, but eliminating religion is an hopelessly foolish goal. We Americans have the further obligation to respect the Constitution and all the rights attendant to it, which obviously includes the First Amendment right of freedom of religion. Lindsay’s juvenile anti-”mosque” rant just piled still more discredit on himself, CFI, and atheists worldwide.

    I have decided to stop contributing to CFI as long as Lindsay remains in charge. I suspect that is why the large anonymous donor stopped, too. Kurtz and this benefactor were close friends, and he or she likely couldn’t stomach continuing to fund an organization headed by someone so loathsome as to reprehensibly attack Kurtz’s intellectual honesty and integrity.

    To those who feel likewise, you might consider joining Kurtz’s new group: http://www.instituteforscienceandhumanvalues.net

    I thank Orac for his excellent blog entry!

  77. #77 Richard Ambrose
    September 2, 2010

    “If CFI is supposed to be pro-reason, and pro-critical thinking, how could it not be anti-religion?”

    Such thoughts were echoed several times above, and I’d like to address the general concept. There’s a difference between “anti-religion” and “nonreligion” that parallels the difference between “anti-smoker” and “nonsmoker” and “anti-gay” and “sexually secure”. One’s an active assaulter and the other is simply wise.

    Up until Ronald Lindsay’s reign, CFI/CFI Transnational was pro-reason, pro-critical thinking, and it generally argued rationally and intelligently against religious belief in the pages of Free Inquiry. But commencing upon the political maneuvers wherein Lindsay came to power, the organization tilted away from educated rational debate and sharply towards absolutist, anti-theist demagoguery. CFI’s initial press release that Orac writes of, which included Lindsay’s hostile and intolerant comment, stands as just one piece of evidence of this deplorable trend.

    By aligning itself with the screaming anti-theists currently popular among college sophomores, the CFI has justly earned fair and rational criticism from those who juxtapose the organization’s stated principles of reasoned, critical thinking and principles such as “we do not seek to abridge the rights of believers” and “we do not oppose the free exercise of religion” along side CFI’s new belligerent and vituperative enmity towards believers. These critics undeniably have a compelling point.

    Consider this from NPR: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=113889251

    Hitchens and Myers at least admit they’re pushing “ridicule, hatred and contempt” because that’s what the callow little kiddies need if they’re going to feel “excited”. Rational, philosophically-aware atheism is “really, really boring” and it doesn’t move the merchandise, so they chose to co-opt the Beck and Limbaugh strategy for themselves.

    CFI used to represent the high water mark of rationality and informed atheism. Under Lindsay, it’s sunk beneath the waves into the sordid, sensationalist muck.

  78. #78 intercostal
    September 22, 2010

    >>Here’s my question to CFI: is belief in and yearning for The Singularity a religion? Why the hell not? And that would apply to other brands of transhumanism as well.

    In fact it’s fairly similar to Gnosticism, Catharism etc., with the word information swapped out for spirit. Devaluation of the body, desire for an escape from the fleshly world etc. The Gnostics wanted to become beings of pure spirit dwelling in the pleroma, mind-uploader types want to become beings of information dwelling in cyberspace…

    It’s the oldest error of Western civilization (devaluation of bodily life) in a new form.

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