The Intersection

i-d5855ea29fa673d41e8273feecb65ddd-gladiator5.jpgGladius in one hand and scutum in the other, I enter the SciBling Colosseum… Ave Caesar, morituri te salutant (Gladiators didn’t actually say that, but adds a nice touch, no?)

Matt and Revere are already battling over two topics that always seem to provide a good show for spectators and participants in the blogosphere:
Framing and Atheism

Read their posts for full disclosure, but to recap:

Nisbet:
* Dawkins et al. have generated more discussion of atheism and critiques of religion, but is the this particular brand of discussion productive? Not only is it polarizing, but it lacks a positive message about alternative values and forms of community that could replace religion.
* The ‘Dawkins et al. phenomenon’ is very much a product of the Freak Show of modern media.
* News attention gravitates to the most polarizing and extreme of views. Thus, the actual discussion that ensues distracts from and actually harms the ability of secularists to work together with others in society to solve pressing collective problems.
* Responsibility is on Dawkins for how the message is translated and used because it ‘feeds the media beast. This might mobilize the base, but it risks alienating the middle.’

Revere:
* Doesn’t disagree that the PR campaign provides ‘emotional sustenance and talking points for many atheists.’
* The writings of Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens, PZ etc, have opened a wide forum talk about belief and non-belief in ways not possible before.
* Religious delusions are harmful delusions.
* Many people don’t believe or disbelieve and phrase things in religious terms as a social default without alternative models.

My turn:
I see a lot of gray here and there are certainly merits to both arguments. Matt points out that we can talk about atheism in a way that is not polarizing or balkanizing, but in the Dawkins case, the media has provided an ugly portrayal of conflicting soundbites and personalities. Exactly Matt.

Revere’s also correct that the new wave of prolific atheist writers has opened the discussion and provided needed exposure of alternative beliefs and ideas. He calls religious delusions harmful and indeed (dare I mention again), any breed of fundamentalism has the capacity to become dangerous when used as justification for hate, murder, war, and all sort of atrocities. Revere’s onto something here.

You see, these seemingly opposing viewpoints are not necessarily mutually exclusive in many areas, although I suggest there is one weakness in Revere’s reasoning when he touches on atheist literature:

the power of these books comes from the fact that they awaken latent recognition by a huge population of readers who had otherwise thought of themselves as believers but only by default, because they saw no one of any stature or legitimacy brave enough to say what had more or less subconsciously occurred to them so many times as a result of personal experience.

Now I don’t have the data to back this up, but I trust that people are more clever on an individual basis than we give them credit for, so I don’t buy the argument that scores have ‘thought of themselves as believers by default?’ Are we really that sheepish a society? I just don’t think these books provide folks reason to notice they were atheists all along without a shepherd. Wouldn’t that liken PZ to Abraham? Or dare I say it, Jesus?

Pharyngula himself would be amused at such a comparison… well actually, who can predict the musings of PZ? In any case, my opinion on any of this is really of little consequence. (why do I have the nagging feeling someone will quote that in the comments?) But neither is Matt’s or Revere’s or PZ Myers’ for that matter. What’s important is that you turn these ideas on their head by continuing to think independently and critically. Yep. You.

So read everything you can that interests you. Be no one’s flock. Politically, religiously, socially, and so on. Pollice verso?

Comments

  1. #1 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    August 27, 2007

    Matt points out that we can talk about atheism in a way that is not polarizing or balkanizing, but in the Dawkins case, the media has provided an ugly portrayal of conflicting soundbites and personalities. Exactly Matt.

    He certainly didn’t point this out by example, not in his “Atheist Noise Machine” post nor in previous efforts. The perception that Mr. N. is really really bad at “framing” has been noted often, but he keeps providing more evidence.

    Choose your friends carefully. You will be judged by them.

  2. #2 coturnix
    August 27, 2007

    Well, I’ve written ten long posts on the topic last time there was a big Framing Science (and Atheism) debate, so I will not write another one.

    The two strategies are compatible: one (vocal atheism) is public – it makes it possible to discuss atheism in the media and elsewhere, it makes it easy for atheists in heavily religious areas to come out of the closet, find each other, make census of their numbers, and organize a front for their recognition and for elimination of formal and informal discrimination.

    The other one (gentle atheism) is private – it operates in the trenches, where people are led slowly and gently to overcome the extremely painful experience of losing their parent’s religion and with it the parental and community approval or even belonging.

    The two actually help each other: more publicly respectable atheism gets, easier it is to work in the trenches; more people get ‘converted’, more respectable atheism will be in the public sphere.

    I would argue that even our internecine fights are productive as they keep the issue continuously alive.

  3. #3 justawriter
    August 27, 2007

    Are we really that sheepish a society?

    Yes.

    This has been another episode of simple answers to simple questions.

  4. #4 James Hrynyshyn
    August 27, 2007

    With all due respect to Matt’s expertise in communication theory, I can’t agree with any of the points you ascribe to him. Let’s look at them:

    1. Dawkins et al. have generated more discussion … Not only is it polarizing, but it lacks a positive message about alternative values and forms of community that could replace religion.

    This kind of characterization can only be made by someone who hasn’t read Dawkins. Dennett has even more positive things to say , Harris has too. Even Hitchens new book, God is not Great has plenty of positive messages contained therein.

    2. The ‘Dawkins et al. phenomenon’ is very much a product of the Freak Show of modern media.

    Not sure what this means, but if Matt’s saying that no one but sensational media outlets are paying attention, his view is at odds with the facts. Mainstream media isn’t giving these guys a lot of attention. Dawkins is still virtually unknown among most Americans .I would suggest. Some attention is paid by Stewart and Colbert, but not Leno and Letterman. And yet their books are selling very well.

    3. [extremist elements emphasized so]the actual discussion that ensues distracts from and actually harms the ability of secularists to work together with others in society to solve pressing collective problems.

    Again, where’s the evidence for this? What exactly are the “extremist” points of view?s The entire debate is fundamentally about polar opposite ideas (there is god vs. no there isn’t). It’s not a debate about shades of gray or middle ground, like the debate over what to do with Ira (should I stay or should I go? Or should we do any number of long-term transitional options?)

    4. Responsibility is on Dawkins for how the message is translated and used because it ‘feeds the media beast. This might mobilize the base, but it risks alienating the middle.’

    Dawkins’ responsibility is to write as clearly as he can and make his book as accessible as possible to the audience he wants to reach. Nothing more. And I would argue that what few facts we have at our disposal suggest he isn’t alienating his desired audience.

    Read Christopher Hitchen’s experiences on a book tour for God is not Great in Vanity Fair. The lazy, here’s the final paragraph

    According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, my book is selling particularly well in the Bible Belt, on a “know thine enemy” basis. And I get encouraging letters from atheists in foxholes in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as from people who feel that they are at last emerging from some kind of closet. One day a decent candidate for high office will say that he is not a person of faith, and the sky will not fall. Everywhere I speak, I find that the faithful go to church for a mixture of reasons, from social to charitable to ethnic, and take their beliefs à la carte or cafeteria-style, choosing the bits they like and discarding the rest. The Christianity Today Web site, which has hosted me in an online debate with its champion Douglas Wilson for the past two months, writes to say that Mr. Wilson wants to send me a wheel of Washington State cheese, as a token of appreciation. A nice surprise. Blessed are the cheese-makers.

  5. #5 Ana
    August 27, 2007

    Sheril’s post reminds me of Walt Whitman’s advice in his preface to Leaves of Grass. It’s worth re-reading every now and again.

    “This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem…”

  6. #6 Brian Schmidt
    August 27, 2007

    “Are we really that sheepish a society?”

    My slightly different answer from the other commenter is that we’re all sheepish some of the time. Vocal atheism might help some people by being a counterpoint to vocal religion, so those people can more easily make up their own mind.

    But as agnostic, I don’t really know for sure.

  7. #7 TK
    August 27, 2007

    Jesus vs PZ would make a great South Park episode

  8. #8 Charlie
    August 27, 2007

    I will start with a disclaimer: I consider myself to be deeply religious. I attend a local church and I teach Sunday School there. I am sure that automatically disqualifies my viewpoints from consideration for many of your readers; those folks can feel free to stop reading if their minds have already slammed closed.

    My church was once Darwin’s, and my faith is that of Kneeland’s “philosophical creed” – in many ways, the same as Einstein and Spinoza’s. Nothing in my religion in any way contradicts or denies observable reality or the scientific method. I am not a “mystic”, an agnostic, or an atheist, and I work in the hard sciences.

    I am reading Hitchens’ “God is not Great” and I find it ridiculous. The sheer bulk of anti-religious fanaticism (such as, the inane semi-apologetic for Stalin’s atrocities) and factual inaccuracy (such as, the reference to Hebrew scripture being the “oldest holy book still in use”) makes this screed as difficult to stomach as the lamest Jack Chick tract.

    The atheists who attend my church are thoughtful people who expend a tremendous amount of time and money trying to change the world for the better. They have made common cause with agnostics, pantheists, bhuddists, and universalists to fight the injustice and narrowmindedness that religious fundamentalism inflicts on the world. I have no problem with these people – they do not try to tell me my definition of God is wrong or atheistic, and I understand and share their distaste for falsehood and oppression.

    People like PZ and Hitchens, however, are a different breed of animal. They will not accept any definition of religion or spirituality that does not reflect their prejudices. They are “fundamentalist atheists”, if you will; they operate on circular reasoning (God is defined as someone who performs miracles, and miracles are defined as things that cannot and do not occur) and the same sort of emotional grandstanding and inaccurate generalizing that characterizes Christian fundamentalism. They are like Humpty Dumpty. ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,’ it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.’ (–Rev. Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll).

    These people literally lump together B’hai and Wahabi, Bhuddism and Hinduism – pretending that the similarities of these belief systems matter more than the differences. Atheists who choose to mock and misrepresent good and honest people will not accomplish as much as those who join forces with people of faith who share a common hatred of lies and injustice.

    Theology is the attempt to define God, and secondarily the attempt to describe the interactions of deity with those things that humans value. Defining God as “something that doesn’t exist” is your privilege. I have a more logical definition, myself (as did Baruch Spinoza) that works for me and adds value to my existence.

    When I saw the title “framing atheism” I instantly thought that proponents of atheism ought to frame their belief as something other than merely an opposite and equally intolerant fundamentalism. I regret that I will not have the opportunity to discuss this further – I have too much else on my plate – and I hope you will forgive my hit and run posting and gain some value from my (somewhat poorly organized) ramblings.

  9. #9 Lance
    August 27, 2007

    I am an atheist surrounded by evangelical Christians (I use the capital “C” grudgingly); wife, family, in-laws. Respect for the people involved, if not for their beliefs, is the key to peaceful, and productive interaction.

    This doesn’t mean I soft peddle my atheist views. I just allow for the fact that they have deep emotional and cultural roots for their beliefs, irrational as they may be.

    We mostly eye each other with loving curiosity. They don’t understand how I can live without the certainty and comfort of a divine protector and I can’t understand how they can make the intellectual compromises to do so.

    I have no illusions that they will “come around” and they have (mostly) stopped the relentless proselytizing.

    I wonder if this is how Shiite and Sunni people lived before the recent melt-down in Iraq.

    Religious belief is not something that is going to be “framed” into compromise. Dawkins is right to be blunt and straight forward. I don’t pretend that there is common ground for compromise and they have slowly accepted that I have a rational and moral basis for my atheism.

    It didn’t come easily or with out conflict, but eventually they had to come to grips with the fact that my atheism wasn’t “rebellion” against their deity. They even now agree with the basic ideas of separation of church and state. Having lived with a “Godless” atheist for all these years they can appreciate how the imposition of their beliefs into my, and other nonbelievers lives, is unfair not to mention unconstitutional.

    People can respect each other even if they disagree on fundamental issues. (Are you listening Norm, Jon and Science Avenger?) All that is required is the “golden rule”. Of course I see it as a rational construct and my wife and family? Well you know.

  10. #10 Fred Bortz
    August 27, 2007

    Charlie and Lance reach a similar point from quite different viewpoints.

    Having decided Hitchens’ God Is Not Great and Dawkins The God Delusion are not worth my time, I base this statement on the books’ titles, published reviews of the books, and, primarily, interviews of the authors when they discuss religion.

    I think there is a difference between atheism and anti-theism. Those books come down on the side of anti-theism from what I have been able to tell.

    The one recent book I have read on the issue is called Evolving God A Provocative View of the Origins of Religion by Barbara J. King.

    My review of that book starts this way:

    “We humans crave emotional connection with others. This deep desire… can be explained by the long evolutionary history we shared with other primates…. At the same time, it explains why humans evolved to become the spiritual ape–the ape that grew a large brain, the ape that stood up, the ape that first created art, but, above all, the ape that evolved God.”

    With that opening paragraph, William and Mary anthropology professor Barbara J. King firmly hooks readers who were enticed by her book’s title, Evolving God. Once engaged, few will set the book aside. Even when exploring topics primarily of interest to academics, its prose remains accessible to a broad audience.

    I couldn’t tell what King’s own religious impulses were, but I think she has captured the theistic mindset much better than any of the better-selling atheism books.

    Click my name for the full review.

  11. #11 MK
    August 27, 2007

    “Now I don’t have the data to back this up, but I trust that people are more clever on an individual basis than we give them credit for, so I don’t buy the argument that scores have ‘thought of themselves as believers by default?’ Are we really that sheepish a society?”

    Revere is correct. There are many people just as he describes. Ask around. You’ll be surprised.

    Has nothing to do with whether they are clever or not, however.

    And sheepish society? Of course it is.

  12. #12 MK
    August 27, 2007

    Fred,

    Thanks. I am looking forward to reading your full review and (possibly?) the book.

    MK

  13. #13 Wes
    August 28, 2007

    any breed of fundamentalism has the capacity to become dangerous when used as justification for hate, murder, war, and all sort of atrocities.

    My grandmother, my parents, my siblings and and many of my cousins, aunts and uncles self-identify as fundamentalists. It’s a term for a type of Christian theology, not an empty derogatory term you can just hurl at whomever happens to offend you. It’s something many people (including many good people) believe. I happen to be an atheist and believe that fundamentalism is grossly misguided and harmful, but I don’t use it as a catch-all insult term the way you do.

    Sheril, you continue to ignore the many people who have pointed out to you that you simply don’t know what a fundamentalist is or what fundamentalists believe. It’s not a derogatory term. It’s not a catch-all for anyone who has strong beliefs. It’s a term many people use to describe themselves–people who adhere to Christian fundamentalism. You seem to be having extreme difficulty understanding that.

    What’s the problem? Why do you insist on “tolerance for all view points” while simultaneously using the name of people’s theology as a generalized derogatory term? Do you just not see the hypocrisy in that?

  14. #14 Oliver
    August 28, 2007

    @James Hryshyn:
    “Again, where’s the evidence for this? What exactly are the “extremist” points of view?s The entire debate is fundamentally about polar opposite ideas (there is god vs. no there isn’t). It’s not a debate about shades of gray or middle ground, like the debate over what to do with Ira (should I stay or should I go? Or should we do any number of long-term transitional options?)”

    No, the entire debate is not about polar opposite ideas. This is a misunderstanding based precisely on the fact that you are presented with extremist point of views. There is a whole spectrum between “there is a god” and “there isn’t”, not the least “we can’t tell”. PZ’s posse wants to sell absence of evidence as evidence of absence on a regular basis. This, alas, is a fallacy that makes their position just as much a kind of “secular religion”. Secular philosophies can be wrong, too. To stick to them while warping scientific method beyond recognition in order to “support” them is just as much a delusion.

  15. #15 Maria
    August 28, 2007

    Now I don’t have the data to back this up, but I trust that people are more clever on an individual basis than we give them credit for, so I don’t buy the argument that scores have ‘thought of themselves as believers by default?’ Are we really that sheepish a society?< \blockquote>

    I don’t know if it’s a matter of sheepishness. Having been raised a Catholic, it was extremely hard for me to acknowledge the fact that I don’t, in fact, believe that God exists. The way I’ve explained this reluctance is that when you grow up “knowing” that some belief is true, it becomes second nature. You just don’t examine those beliefs, just as you don’t examine the belief that the Earth is round, or that gravity will still be there tomorrow.

    My personal story is that before Dawkins’ book, reading someone who is an openly, and in-your-face, atheist – namely, PZ – made it easier for me to take nonbelief as a reasonable, and above all acceptable, point of view. Then I realized that deep down I’d stopped believing a long time ago.

    I’m not a native English speaker, but I don’t think that “sheepish” describes the way people accept (without critical examination) worldviews that were ingrained in them since they were born. [In fact, that's one of the harmful effects of religion that Dawkins points out in his book, and I agree with him.] Sheepish seems more applicable to someone blindly accepting arguments as an adult. But if sheepish describes my experience, then I think a lot of us are, indeed, sheepish.

  16. #16 matthew
    August 28, 2007

    IMO, you’re correct Maria. “Sheepish” isn’t the best word for what Sheril is describing. I think it is more correct to call it naivety when young and a failure to think critically when older. Now, by “failure” I don’t mean to allude to the intelligence of a person, it could simply be that some people don’t care enough to think critically about it because they don’t typically have to defend it.

  17. #17 Daryl McCullough
    August 28, 2007

    Ana,

    Thanks for the Walt Whitman quote. I believe that the point “stand up for the stupid and crazy” is especially important. When scientists talk amongst themselves, they often judge ordinary humans by the same standards they would judge a fellow scientist. To call someone stupid is to dismiss him, to say that his opinions and feelings are irrelevant. But I’d like to remind people that there are lots of stupid people. By my estimate, nearly 50% of the population is of below-average intelligence (except in Lake Woebegone).

    The ideals of truth and objectivity that a scientist aspires to are just not the concerns of most human beings. If we can learn to love and respect octopuses and wolves and penguins, then we can love and respect scientifically illiterate humans.

  18. #18 daenku32
    August 28, 2007

    Shouldn’t the fact that most people adopt their parents religion, whatever it may be, example of “sheepishness”? PZ might be an “Abraham”, but he and Dawkins have hardly gained any kind of domination in the market. Religious bookstores are still abound, as is the numerous 24h religious TV stations I get. As are the broadcasts of these same religious programs on secular channels in the mornings. Their contribution to the marketplace of ideas has been tremendous, even if they haven’t gone around promoting an all-rounded, answer-all-questions belief system as a replacement to established religions.

  19. #19 Maria
    August 28, 2007

    Exactly, matthew. And having a loud defender of atheism will make most open-minded people question their own motives, if only to know why they disagree with that loud voice. As for people who are not willing to examine their views rationally when they find an opposing argument, they won’t be swayed by kinder versions of atheism either.

  20. #20 Oliver
    August 28, 2007

    @Maria:

    I disagree. When someone is constantly blaring into my ear with a bullhorn, even most open-minded people don’t give a damn what he says, he’s plain annoying -and obviously not interested in debate at all. A “loud defender” is one thing first and foremost: loud, and thus obviously more interested in being heard than in listening himself. An open-minded person will doubt said loud defender to be as open-minded and open to critical debate and conclude there are more pleasant things to waste his or her time with. Why should I take someone who is emulating firebrand preachers the best he can take seriously when he himself tells me not to take firebrand preachers seriously?

    For critically-minded people, Tacitus’ “sine ira et studio” has always been sound advice.

  21. #21 etbnc
    August 28, 2007

    As I’ve watched these many repeated episodes, I’ve tried to find something I could learn from them. I realized today that I might derive some useful ideas by asking myself two questions:

    What are the effects of my own behavior?

    How would I behave if I cared about the answer?

     

  22. #22 Dunc
    August 28, 2007

    But seriously people, are the so-called “New Atheists” really that loud? Or is it just that hearing any non-apologetic reference to atheism is so unusual as to be shocking? I mean, it seems to me that there’s a constant drumbeat of theism in out society, day in, day out, all the freakin’ time… I regard the idea that the “New Atheists” are some kind of hard-core, in-your-face, take-no-prisoners movement in exactly the same way that I regard the idea that giving gay people exactly the same civil rights as everybody else is tantamount to giving them special privileges.

    “Noise is relative to the silence preceding it. The more absolute the hush, the more shocking the thunderclap.”

  23. #23 Oliver
    August 29, 2007

    @Dunc

    “I mean, it seems to me that there’s a constant drumbeat of theism in out society, day in, day out, all the freakin’ time…”

    What is “our society”, which I assume is what you wanted to type? The internet? The US? Frankly, if you consider the US religious right “our society”, the only thing that can be diagnosed is a serious inferiority complex -you’re giving them precisely the attention they crave.

    Most importantly, “beating them with their own means” is merely going to alienate the bystanders. “Take no prisoners”-approaches are rarely seen as rational conduct by the non-involved.

    As for the question “Are they really that loud?”, please refer to the first paragraph. This loud religious fanaticism is insignificant even within christianity, let alone religion as a whole. It is ironic how the secular fanatics play right into the hands of their professed enemies by declaring “yes, they are correct, they speak for their religion”. If they can’t be bothered with religion, they shouldn’t lecture the moderates as to what their religion actually looks like.

  24. #24 Norman Doering
    August 29, 2007

    Oliver wrote:

    This loud religious fanaticism is insignificant even within christianity,…

    If they’re so insignificant, then how come they got a president elected, how come all GOP candidates have to recite their talking points, how are they in the process of stacking the Supreme Court, how has this tiny group got laws against gay marriage passed in many states, how is it they now have a faith based initiative that hands out money to Pat Robertson, and how can they get the Gallop polls to show that many people don’t believe in evolution?

  25. #25 Maria
    August 29, 2007

    @Oliver

    As Dunc says, the New Atheists are “loud” in that they say, plainly, “Religion is a delusion”, “there’s no difference between believing in Christ and believing in Zeus”, and other provocative claims.

    Now, I believe someone who is truly open-minded should examine their beliefs not in order to engage the opposition, but in order to be sure that those beliefs are correct. So, my reaction when I listen to a New Earth Creationist is that I’m not convinced of what he says. How he says it, on the other hand, makes me not want to engage him in an argument, as I’m afraid nothing I say would make him change his mind.

    The same is true with “loud” atheists, the ones who don’t tread carefully when discussing religion. Just having such a different opinion mouthed openly and clearly (and, in the case of Dawkins at least, with tolerable if not ultra-sophisticated arguments) makes me re-examine my own views. Regardless of whether I choose to engage them. Case in point: I love reading PZ, but don’t agree with many of the things he says. He just gives me food for thought.

  26. #26 Oliver
    August 30, 2007

    @Norman:

    How do you suppose this illustrates significance when the US poses at the most one-seventh of Christianity?

  27. #27 Oliver
    August 30, 2007

    Sorry for the double post up there, I got a bit impatient with the moderation….

    @Maria
    “Now, I believe someone who is truly open-minded should examine their beliefs not in order to engage the opposition, but in order to be sure that those beliefs are correct.”

    Why do I need opposition for that, especially loud one? All I need is a healthy dose of self-skepticism. This won’t be induced by anyone calling other people names, let alone delusional.

    “Just having such a different opinion mouthed openly and clearly (and, in the case of Dawkins at least, with tolerable if not ultra-sophisticated arguments) makes me re-examine my own views.”

    If I were truly advocating thought on the premises of science, then re-examining my own views would be something I am constantly doing. In fact, I’d be actively challenging them. I don’t need PZ for that and I don’t need Dawkins for that. All I need is, say, Popper.

    If it takes someone to tell you “You’re wrong” for you to question your beliefs, are you truly open-minded? Or is it not that the thought that you could be wrong doesn’t occur to you until someone rubs your nose in it? I am certainly not becoming more inclined to question my beliefs than before due to the fact that someone who refuses to question his tells me I’m wrong -especially not when they clearly confuse their own personal experience with anything coming close to “objectivity”.

  28. #28 Norman Doering
    August 30, 2007

    Oliver wrote:

    How do you suppose this illustrates significance when the US poses at the most one-seventh of Christianity?

    Well, it’s pretty significant if you’re a US citizen, which I am. They potentially affect my life in ways more liberal Christians don’t. It’s also pretty significant outside the US when the US, led by a fundy president who thinks Jesus is a great political philosopher, is currently dropping bombs on two other countries.

    But besides that, I doubt your implications. You’re implying that there are more sophisticated Christians elsewhere, outside the US, but outside of the US things aren’t much better.

    A lot of Christians in Africa and South America are creationists and its third world countries like that where the religion is growing. It’s dying in Europe and other places where you find pluralism and secularism.

  29. #29 Oliver
    August 31, 2007

    @Norman Doering

    “Well, it’s pretty significant if you’re a US citizen, which I am. They potentially affect my life in ways more liberal Christians don’t. It’s also pretty significant outside the US when the US, led by a fundy president who thinks Jesus is a great political philosopher, is currently dropping bombs on two other countries.”

    Sorry, but you are hardly going to gain any credibility by stating that you don’t understand the difference between a subsample and the entirety. If you talk about Christians, let alone religion as a whole, you are NOT talking about the US religious right only. Especially given that a lot of their splinter denominations don’t exist anywhere else on the planet…

    “A lot of Christians in Africa and South America are creationists and its third world countries like that where the religion is growing. It’s dying in Europe and other places where you find pluralism and secularism.”

    Uh-huh. And the Pope happens to be, oh, yes, right, from Benin, wasn’t he? Couldn’t possibly be from Germany… And World Youth Day 2005? Probably in Cape Town. Couldn’t possibly have happened in Cologne.

    Sorry, but you’re not going to fight superstition and prejudice by getting yourself ever more deeply mired in superstition and prejudice.

    Reading suggestion, although you’ll probably not like it…
    From atlantic-community.org

    Sorry to say, but the “religion is dying in Europe” stuff is bullshit. It’s funny that you complain about the US religious right while buying their propaganda hook, rope and sinker. The fact that, for example, many people “leave the church” in Germany has more tax-related reasons and says nothing about faith. You’re postulating a dichotomy that on a practical level doesn’t exist. When people aren’t fanatical about their faith and you go and declare that “religion is dying” when you look at them, you aren’t propagating rational thought, you’re engaging in wishful thinking.

    Religion isn’t dying in Europe -people merely assign specific “places” in their lives for religion and specific places for other things -and they dislike “froth on the mouth” agitators. Compare different polls on religious issues, especially for example in France, and you’re going to get hugely divergent results, indicating that phrasing of the question is extremely important. (e.g. in one poll, 32% each identified as atheists and agnostics respectively, while in another, over 50% identified as catholics alone…)

    Heck, the German chancellor is from a party calling itself the christian-democratic union. Churches and religions don’t have power per se, but they are still respected as moral authorities. When Benedict XVI was elected, the largest tabloid titled “We are Pope!”

    You’re confusing the fact that bully pulpits are generally disliked with a “death” of religion.

  30. #30 DragonScholar
    August 31, 2007

    Hmmm, let me add my thoughts:

    I’m very glad there’s finally some kind of public discussion on religion. It’s great it’s happening. I myself can personally say it has changed some of my views and behaviors.

    That being said, I do think we have to cope with the media freakshow issue. It IS a problem, and for all the benefit of having open discussion about religious issues, that has to be taken into account. Like it or not, truth and honesty are not major commodities in today’s media, and no one is going to win Quixotically hoping that “truth” will win through.

    I think in the end, it comes down to what I’ve said some time: tactics. What do you want, how will you get it, and how will you pursue that plan.

    Unfortunately, I think things in the atheist/freethinker/or-just-plain-open-minded crowd aren’t to the stage of heavy tactics yet. Actually the “what you want part” is still kind of fuzzy.

    Then again if we had consensus, we’d be fundamentalists. So it’s mildly comforting.

  31. #31 Norman Doering
    August 31, 2007

    Oliver wrote:

    Sorry, but you are hardly going to gain any credibility by stating that you don’t understand the difference between a subsample and the entirety.

    It’s not about understanding the difference between a subsample and the entirety. It’s about two things you’ve got wrong 1) What makes something “significant” to people besides those with your own narrow and subjective judgment. And 2) Which groups are the real minority among Christians.

    When it comes to measuring “significance” it is you who are using a personal and subjective standard that can have no real meaning to an atheist. It can only have meaning to those who share your particular religious views. If you have to discount the significance of a group that can elect the president of the world’s major military superpower and still force its talking points on a major political party after that president fails dramatically then there is something wrong with your view of what makes a group “significant.”

    When it comes to measuring which types of beliefs are in the majority, world wide, you still have some very primitive beliefs among the majority of Christians. Creationism is prevalent across the world, and that doesn’t just mean Young Earth creationists. Belief in demonic possession is fairly common too, and that includes the popes.

    If you talk about Christians, let alone religion as a whole, you are NOT talking about the US religious right only. Especially given that a lot of their splinter denominations don’t exist anywhere else on the planet…

    But I would insist that the US religious right is still “significant” because of its influence on politics and because of its numbers (you couldn’t throw out even 1/10th as merely insignificant, if you could then you’re also calling atheists, gays and other minorities insignificant). And as far as other Christian splinter denominations in Africa, South America, Asia and even in Europe, they often have views that are just as primitive.

    And depending on what you consider primitive, primitive beliefs make up the bulk of all religious beliefs.

    Uh-huh. And the Pope happens to be, oh, yes, right, from Benin, wasn’t he? Couldn’t possibly be from Germany… And World Youth Day 2005? Probably in Cape Town. Couldn’t possibly have happened in Cologne.

    And what makes Joseph Ratzinger’s early days in the Hitler youth relevant to this? Are you Catholic? Are you holding up the Catholics as an example of sophisticated and enlightened Christianity that people don’t have to worry about? You don’t think that the pope ultimately sides with Behe and Dembski? You don’t think they threatened to excommunicate politicians who didn’t toe their line on abortion? You think maybe they didn’t try to exorcise Mother Teresa’s demons?

    Sorry to say, but the “religion is dying in Europe” stuff is bullshit.

    Oh, really?

    Here are the wiki-stats on Europe.

    Here are some more stats.

    You might take heart in the fact that a majority of people still believe in some higher power, but the number of atheists in Europe is growing and the numbers are at a historical first. There is no reason to suppose they won’t stop growing.

    The fact that, for example, many people “leave the church” in Germany has more tax-related reasons and says nothing about faith.

    When did I say anything about taxes? You’re creating a straw man. I base the growing number of atheists on polls that directly ask whether people would consider themselves atheists or whether they believe in God. Those numbers have been steadily growing. And today, in some European countries, like Sweden, Denmark and the Czech Republic they just might make up a slight majority.

    You’re postulating a dichotomy that on a practical level doesn’t exist. When people aren’t fanatical about their faith and you go and declare that “religion is dying” when you look at them, you aren’t propagating rational thought, you’re engaging in wishful thinking.

    No, considering the liberalization of a religion as part its death isn’t wishful thinking. It’s actually those liberalized religious people who are engaging in wishful thinking.

    So, what exactly do you believe in Oliver? Did God create man? Did God inject a soul into him at some point in his evolution? Do demons possess people? Is there a heaven? Is there a hell? Will Jesus save you?

  32. #32 David Marjanović
    September 1, 2007

    When did I say anything about taxes? You’re creating a straw man.

    No, you don’t seem to know that in many European countries the membership fees for churches are collected by the state and are called “church tax” (…oops, sorry, “church contribution”). If you aren’t a member of any recognized religious congregation, you don’t have to pay church tax. Nobody over here denies that plenty of people leave their churches for just this one reason.

    The main difference, however, is that in Europe generally religion is a private affair. It is not something you talk about, just like you don’t talk about how much you earn or about whether you like blowjobs. I was shocked to read that, in the USA, your new neighbors will ask you things like “so, what church do you go to?” and consider that smalltalk.

    You don’t think that the pope ultimately sides with Behe and Dembski?

    Now, this depends on what “ultimately” ultimately means. We’re talking about a Catholic theologian. He won’t split hairs — he’ll split bacterial pili.

  33. #33 Norman Doering
    September 1, 2007

    David Marjanović wrote:

    … in many European countries the membership fees for churches are collected by the state and are called “church tax” (…oops, sorry, “church contribution”). If you aren’t a member of any recognized religious congregation, you don’t have to pay church tax. Nobody over here denies that plenty of people leave their churches for just this one reason.

    Okay, that might very well distort reports on religiosity. However, how distorted can a finding like this get:

    Several studies have found Sweden to be one of the most secular countries in the world. According to Davie (1999), 85% of Swedes do not believe in God. In the Eurostat survey, 23% of Swedish citizens responded that “they believe there is a God”, whereas 53% answered that “they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force” and 23% that “they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force”. This, according to the survey, would make Swedes the third least religious people in the 25-member European Union, after Estonia and the Czech Republic.

    That’s not just saying they don’t belong to the state church, that’s 23% of Swedes saying “they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force.” To escape a church tax they only have to not accept the state church’s teaching and membership, they wouldn’t need to be atheists. How can that not be unprecedented growth in the number of atheists?

    And if it hides anything, wouldn’t it be more likely to hide the similarity in Christian beliefs between the US and Europe and thus work against Oliver’s claim that American fundamentalists are unique and insignificant?