Pharyngula

The thin-skinned Religious Left whimpers some more. What is it with Kevin Drum and his constant sucking up to the delusional fantasist wing of the Democratic party? Usually it’s Amy Sullivan, but this time it’s Steve Waldman who gets to be the representative pantywaist for poor oppressed Christianity. He wants to claim that liberals are hostile to evangelicals.

I had been making a narrower point—that many liberals carry an elitist attitude toward evangelical Christians. Lerner’s indictment is far more sweeping. Is he being unfair? I think a distinction should be made between the elites and the rank and file on this. The fact is that most Democrats are religious. But secular liberals, who made up about 16% of the Kerry vote seem to have a disproportionate impact on the party’s image and approach.

Yes, I’m hostile to evangelical Christianity, and I think it is a blight upon the earth. However, take a look at that last sentence.

These “secular liberals”, like me, voted for John Kerry. We rejected his faith, but that was no obstacle to voting for him. Waldman’s own statistics tell us that these people he opposes are tolerant enough and open-minded enough that they had no problem voting for someone who professed his Christianity throughout his campaign. Obviously, this isn’t a problem.

I’d like to know how well Mr Waldman’s preferred voting bloc would favor an atheist candidate for president. How about an agnostic? How about someone who insisted his religion was not going to be an issue, refused to discuss it, and said he was going to represent all Americans without regard to their faith?

I think I know the answer to that: the Waldmans and Sullivans would rend their garments and weep and condemn the candidate. They’d stay away from the polls or they’d abandon the party and vote Republican. They are currently in the majority and they know their religion has an unshakeable lock on representation by our candidates, and still they whine about those “secular liberals”—it’s hard to imagine how frantic they’d be if we “secular liberals” were actually represented by our party. And that is a real problem.

We campaign for and vote for Christian candidates, so I’m not at all sure what more these lunatics want from us. Are we supposed to bow down and convert and tithe, or would it be enough to merely acknowledge the superiority of their Lord Jesus Christ and look sorrowful about having to go to hell?

Waldman also wants to know the roots of our hostility towards “religion and spirituality”. That one is easy: it’s because guessing games, revealed knowledge, irrational prejudice, inappropriate traditions, and unthinking obedience to dogma are not sensible ways to run a country, especially not one with a plurality of religious beliefs. That is the real stumbling block here, not that a minority of the Democratic party demands a rational foundation for our policies.

Boy, whenever Drum serves up a concentrated load of Sullivan and Waldman, it makes me wonder why I bother reading Washington Monthly. I may have to give up.

(Digby also rips into these pious crybabies—I approve completely.)

Comments

  1. #1 coturnix
    March 13, 2006

    I don’t read Drum unless I see everyone I trust linking to a particular post of his and says it is good. Which is a rare occurence.

  2. #2 Austin Cline
    March 13, 2006

    Trackback still doesn’t work for me here, so I’m posting this manually…

    It’s often said that atheists are such a small minority that they need to make common cause with liberal religious believers — and that’s probably true. It will never happen, however, if religious believers are anything like Sullivan and Waldman. You can’t make common cause with a popinjay given to these kinds of accusations. With liberals like Amy Sullivan and Steve Waldman, who needs the Christian Right and Republicans? Full Post…

  3. #3 Sean Foley
    March 13, 2006

    But secular liberals, who made up about 16% of the Kerry vote seem to have a disproportionate impact on the party’s image and approach.

    First off, I doubt that secular liberals have a disporportionate impact on the party’s approach. Well, no. I guess we do, but not in the way he means: 16% of our candidates aren’t atheists. Second, the reason that we have a disproportionate impact on the party’s image is because the Republicans like to hammer on our supposed hatred of Christians every chance they get. I don’t think echoing their talking points is helping, Steve.

  4. #4 David Wilford
    March 13, 2006

    It isn’t Drum’s fault that Waldman and Sullivan are given space on what is, after all, The Washington Monthly’s weblog Hopefully Kevin will be back shortly, as I generally find him well worth reading.

  5. #5 Jason
    March 13, 2006

    @Austin
    Trackback isn’t working for me either. I get some sort of HTML error, which makes me think that trackback doesn’t like the PHP format of the Scienceblog post.
    I could be completely wrong, though.

    Great writeup, PZ. You are dead-on when you talk about how likely an evangelical Christian would be to vote for a non-religious candidate

  6. #6 FhnuZoag
    March 13, 2006

    Damn right, PZ. When was the last time atheists made any sort of a political offensive?

  7. #7 Sastra
    March 13, 2006

    PZ wrote:
    “We campaign for and vote for Christian candidates, so I’m not at all sure what more these lunatics want from us. Are we supposed to bow down and convert and tithe, or would it be enough to merely acknowledge the superiority of their Lord Jesus Christ and look sorrowful about having to go to hell?”

    What they want is for us to admire their faith the same way we admire someone’s morals. Respect them because of their beliefs, not in spite of them, or it doesn’t count as respect. “I don’t believe in God myself, but I sure wish I could.” If only we had their strength of character, their certainty, their inspiration.

    The public loves reading the nontheistic Stepin-Fetchits who overtly lament the lack of comfort and meaning in their godless universe and emphasize how “arrogant” it is to criticize religion. They presumably provide the role model for our proper place in politics and society.

    I’m with you. Screw that.

  8. #8 wamba
    March 13, 2006

    He seems to be setting “religious” and “secular” as opposites. It seems some religious people need reminding that it is OK and even good to support separation of church and state. It’s good for the state, and its good for the church.

  9. #9 Phoenix Woman
    March 13, 2006

    This is why Atrios says we shouldn’t bother kowtowing to people who won’t vote for us anyway. Instead, we need to get more single women — who don’t vote often, but when they do vote, vote Democratic — into the voting booths. And the way to do that is NOT to sell women down the river, as the “religious” activists seem to insist we do.

  10. #10 David Wilford
    March 13, 2006

    What’s more wamba, by definition liberalism is secular. There are many religious liberals who are as firmly for the separation of church and state as atheists are.

  11. #11 george cauldron
    March 13, 2006

    The worst part is that these guys are essentially parroting Karl Rove talking points — mouthing GOP stereotypes of what Democrats are like, and letting the GOP define Democrats. “Yes, we really are a bunch of wicked secularists. Our only hope is to fix everything that the Republicans say is wrong with us”. Sadly, this is completely typical of what the Democratic Party has been like for the past 5 years.

  12. #12 Todd
    March 13, 2006

    Look, if they don’t want us to be a part of the Democratic Party, why don’t they just come out and say it? How many elections do these morons have to lose before they realize that pissing off their base is the problem. Every failed election, they look for another group in the party they need to excise in order to garner the favor of that mysterious 2% swing voter. First it was abortion rights activists, then gays, now it’s secularists. Jesus H @*!&ing Christ, why don’t they just put out the “Going Out of Business” sign outside the party headquarters and start liquidating the office supplies.

  13. #13 Joseph Frederickson
    March 13, 2006

    BONG HITS FOR JESUS!

    Special thanks to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

  14. #14 Dixie Myers
    March 13, 2006

    Oh. Oh. That was great! Thank you all the above commenters. I’ve been talking to myself this last hour I was so angry. You’ve said everything I would and then some. Thank you.

  15. #15 Great White Wonder
    March 13, 2006

    George

    Sadly, this is completely typical of what the Democratic Party has been like for the past 5 years.

    100% true and freaking sad.

    Wisdom from Phoenix Woman:

    This is why Atrios says we shouldn’t bother kowtowing to people who won’t vote for us anyway. Instead, we need to get more single women — who don’t vote often, but when they do vote, vote Democratic — into the voting booths. And the way to do that is NOT to sell women down the river, as the “religious” activists seem to insist we do.

    Yup. The opportunity to have this discussion will undoubtedly arise again when Hillary starts campaigning for the Presidency. Her old comments re “traditional” lifestyles for women (was it something about baking cookies?) will be, uh, resurrected and the question will be: how will she respond? Will she take the opportunity to a make a positive statement on behalf of women and the choices available to women? Or will she kiss the religionists’ womenfolks bare feet?

  16. #16 Ed Darrell
    March 13, 2006

    They ought to get over it. Religious, Christian Democrats are hostile to right-wing, narrow-minded evangelicals, too.

    Idiocy invites such hostility. Waldman wants us to tolerate idiocy? Why? It’s never been protected by an other civilization in history, at least no non-totalitarian regimes.

  17. #17 G. Tingey
    March 13, 2006

    And this sort of thing is strating to ahppen over here (England) as well …. arrrggghhhH!

    In the meantime, will Gilaed come after the 2008 election, or the 2016 one?

  18. #18 John
    March 13, 2006

    If Democrats want to regain any sort of power, they need to stop fighting among themselves and attacking other Democrats. Unfortunately Democratic candidates are egged on by the media who praise Dems who attack portions of their base to curry favor with the right. All this really does is piss off the base; it does not gain any votes from the right. It may work once or twice for one candidate, but it is no way to build a party.

  19. #19 mathpants
    March 13, 2006

    I propose Waldman/Sullivan as the consultant version of Underpants Gnomes:

    Step I: arbitrarily cede large chunks of ground

    Step II: . . .

    Step III: Democrats win!

    Oddly enough, it’s not usually the ground they happen to be standing on.

  20. #20 JP May
    March 13, 2006

    The fact is that most Democrats are religious. But secular liberals, who made up about 16% of the Kerry vote seem to have a disproportionate impact on the party’s image and approach.

    It is striking to me that this proportion of secular folks who voted for Kerry is the same as the proportion of secular folks in the population at large. If our impact was that great, that 16% whould be closer to 30% — and then maybe we would be winning some elections.

  21. #21 Great White Wonder
    March 13, 2006

    Hey, PZ, will you renounce your atheist ways when Noah’s great triumph is revealed to all?

    BWAAHAHHAHAHAA!!!!!

    http://www.cnn.com/2006/TECH/space/03/13/satellite.noahs.ark/index.html

    (SPACE.com) — High on Mt. Ararat in eastern Turkey, there is a baffling mountainside “anomaly,” a feature that one researcher claims may be something of biblical proportions.

    Images taken by aircraft, intelligence-gathering satellites and commercial remote-sensing spacecraft are fueling an intensive study of the intriguing oddity. But whether the anomaly is some geological quirk of nature, playful shadows, a human-made structure of some sort, or simply nothing at all that remains to be seen.

    Whatever it is, the anomaly of interest rests at 15,300 feet (4,663 meters) on the northwest corner of Mt. Ararat, and is nearly submerged in glacial ice. It would be easy to call it merely a strange rock formation.

    But at least one man wonders if it could be the remains of Noah’s Ark, a vessel said to have been built to save people and selected animals from the Great Flood, the 40 days and 40 nights of deluge as detailed in the Book of Genesis.

    —————————–

    I like how CNN talks about the vessel “said to have been built” and the flood that is “detailed” in the Book of Genesis.

    What a laugh.

    It’s a fucking MYTH, people.

    Why aren’t scientists spending more time looking for Charon’s boat? The hills surrounding Rome must be littered with minotaur skeletons. Or was that Greece?

    Who gives a shit.

  22. #22 Geoffrey Brent
    March 13, 2006

    This is one of the things I like about Australian politics. For the most part, candidates’ religion is viewed as their own private business, not terribly interesting except inasmuch as it affects their politics. There are some exceptions – Family First, Fred Nile’s bunch, and religion came into the RU-486 debate recently – but for the most part, religion is a non-issue unless a candidate chooses to make it one, and making it an issue is a good way to secure a position as a ‘minor party’.

  23. #23 Caledonian
    March 13, 2006

    Alas, in the U.S. making it an issue is a good way to win elections.

    I will note that electing a representative who believes that every other religion (and everything not in his religion) is demon-inspired lies is not an effective way to keep a representative government functioning.

  24. #24 Graculus
    March 13, 2006

    I didn’t even realize that PM Jean Chretien was an observant Catholic until the Popr came out against gay mariage.

    Chretien’s response, paraphrased, was: “In parliment I am PM, in church I’m a Catholic.”

    There’s seperation of Church and State for you, guys. Take notes.

  25. #25 Nullifidian
    March 13, 2006
  26. #26 JP
    March 13, 2006

    From the retarded CNN article.

    Identifying the Ararat anomaly has been a 13-year-long quest of Porcher Taylor, an associate professor in paralegal studies at the University of Richmond’s School of Continuing Studies in Virginia.

    This person sounds like an authority on archeology to be trusted.

    Looking at the pictures, I really think this is not the Ark, but Jonah’s Whale. Why won’t CNN address this pressing controversy?

  27. #27 Violet Socks
    March 13, 2006

    Another vote for Phoenix Woman:

    Instead, we need to get more single women — who don’t vote often, but when they do vote, vote Democratic — into the voting booths. And the way to do that is NOT to sell women down the river, as the “religious” activists seem to insist we do.

    And not just single women, but everybody who doesn’t vote because there’s no discernible difference between the parties.

    What is clear as day to most of us but apparently utterly opaque to the Dems is that the party needs to offer a clear, sane, secular alternative. Freedom of religion together with separation of church and state. Tolerance. Respect for science and education. No meddling in people’s private sex lives. Women’s rights. Fair fiscal policies and social services. Taking care of the environment. Stopping corporate thieves and polluters. No more nutty wars and no more torture. This is basic, basic, stuff that most Americans would stand behind, and that many would find a welcome alternative to the neo-fascist Godbaggery of the Republicans.

  28. #28 Keith Kisser
    March 13, 2006

    I gave up on the Washington Monthly and Kevin Drum months ago. He’s way too week kneed and middle of the road for my tastes. He so dfesperately wants to be a consdervative Democrat but is unwilling to give up the goods instead, trying to plow the moderate middle ground and he always comes off osunding wooly. Which is just the smae problem Kerry had int he last election.

  29. #29 shargash
    March 13, 2006

    Chile is a very conservative Catholic country, and yet they recently elected a divorced, single, mother of three, who is an avowed agnostic. She not only won, but she won solidly, finishing first in a 4-way race and then winning the run-off with 53% of the vote.

    Can anyone imagine that happening here? For the first several decades of our history, we had a series of non-Christian presidents. But by about 1840, the Christian anti-enlightenment backlash had settled in, and there have been none since then. Now a deep, devout, overriding Christian religiosity is a pre-requisite for a president. Can anyone imagine a Jew being elected president? Or a Muslim?

    The rest of the world is moving past us, and we are becoming Medieval.

  30. #30 george cauldron
    March 13, 2006

    The main quote in that ‘Noah’s Ark’ article that is most likely to be an outright lie:

    “I had no preconceived notions or agendas when I began this in 1993 as to what I was looking for,” Taylor said.

  31. #31 Dustin
    March 13, 2006

    “I had no preconceived notions or agendas when I began this in 1993 as to what I was looking for,” Taylor said.

    Nope. Just lookin’ ’round Mount Ararat, for nothing in particular. Right. I think last time someone around here used that excuse, they were casing a house. Then they probably got beaned by the cop’s nightstick.

    I still say the headline for that article should be: “Holy Shit — A Rock! Someone Circle it With a Red Pen!”

  32. #32 Ron Sullivan
    March 13, 2006

    Is this where I get my red Victoria’s Secret hi-cuts in a knot over the epithet “pantywaist”? Hmph. I could wear a sequined thong and still put my boot somewhere near this fool’s shirttail.

    You know just how crazy the godbags are? Over at the abortionclinicdays blog, there’s some tootsie carrying on about nhow South Dakota’s just peachy-keen because good (guess what religion) women like her are mortally insulted by the implication that they’d even want to have the option of abortion. So abortion should be illegal to spare their dainty feelings, you see. (Is there a parallel to the article under discussion? I think there is.)

    I am not making this up.

    I am also not related to this Amy Sullivan. I hope. Our family weirdness is generally more interesting.

  33. #33 Dustin
    March 13, 2006

    Hayes is just getting his panties in a knot because he’s a Scientologist. He’s done plenty of satirizing of other religions on that show, and I say good for him (even if South Park is pretty banal, and tries to cover up for it with shock value). But when Scientology’s number came up, he got all huffy.

    You know who rocks? George Clooney rocks. I’ll bet he isn’t happy with this wishy-washy Sullivan garbage either.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/george-clooney/i-am-a-liberal-there-i-_b_17119.html

  34. #34 Don
    March 13, 2006

    “I had no preconceived notions or agendas when I began this in 1993 as to what I was looking for,” Taylor said.

    Wow. That is exactly what the IDers say about their discovery of outboard motors on bacteria!

    Just following the evidence where it leads. Yup.

  35. #35 Dabodius
    March 14, 2006

    “What do atheists do that shows hostility towards Christianity?”
    Daryl McCullough, they say things like “Yes, I’m hostile to evangelical Christianity, and I think it is a blight upon the earth.”
    Or, like Waldman’s commenters on Political Animal (though I should say I don’t see Dr. Myers doing it) they tend to collapse evangelicals into the Christian Right, as if they were one and the same thing; this can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Moreover, deeming the community and ultimate concerns of millions of voters “a blight upon the earth” can get in the way of canvassing them. Not being a Christian of any kind, I can’t tell you what exactly evangelicals want; but as a human being (or a reasonable excuse for one, anyway) I can tell you they don’t want contempt.

  36. #36 Evangelical Nigger
    March 14, 2006

    ANAL CUNT – HITLER WAS A SENSITIVE MAN

    HITLER WAS A SENSITIVE MAN
    HITLER WAS A SENSITIVE MAN
    HITLER WAS A SENSITIVE MAN
    HITLER WAS A SENSITIVE MAN

    HE WENT TO ART SCHOOL WHEN HE WAS YOUNGER
    HE WANTED TO BE A PAINTER
    HITLER WAS A VEGETARIAN
    HE WAS ALSO A NON SMOKER

    HITLER WAS A SENSITIVE MAN
    HITLER WAS A SENSITIVE MAN
    HITLER WAS A SENSITIVE MAN
    HITLER WAS A SENSITIVE MAN

    HE HIRED GAY AND HANDICAPPED OFFICERS
    HE WAS CONCERNED ABOUT OVERPOPULATION
    IF HITLER WAS ALIVE TODAY
    HE’D LISTENED TO THE CURE, THE SMITHS, AND DEPECHE MODE

    HITLER WAS A SENSITIVE MAN
    HITLER WAS A SENSITIVE MAN
    HITLER WAS A SENSITIVE MAN
    HITLER WAS A SENSITIVE MAN

  37. #37 haliaeetus
    March 14, 2006

    The problem is politicians are allowed to pander to the lowest common denominator – superstitious beliefs – in attempts to get elected. (Election 2000 – blow jobs in the White House, 2004 – Gay marriage)I’m still waiting for this administration to “return integrity” to the WH.
    I believe it amounts to a defacto religious “test,” for which there’s no remedy – free speech and all that.

  38. #38 Caledonian
    March 14, 2006

    The government may not institute a religious test for prospective candidates. The people are free to apply whatever religious tests they want.

  39. #39 Stauffenberg
    March 14, 2006

    I appreciate PZ’S admission that he is hostile to evangelical Christianity.

    And I suspect he is just plain hostile to Christianity and religion in general.

    After all, he is a fundamentalist atheist…quite vocal in his beliefs.

    But why act suprised when Christians, not just “fundies” are worried about what would happen if people like you had control over them?

    I am worried too, about any kind of fundamentalist…atheist or theist…having control over me.

    Fortunately, your kind seldom appeals to enough voters to actually win political office…so keep spewing your bile.

  40. #40 PZ Myers
    March 14, 2006

    If you’d actually read what I wrote, you might have noticed that while I’m hostile to Christianity, I’ve somehow never had any qualms about voting and even campaigning for Christians.

    That was a central point of my article. Another point is that many evangelical Christians are so narrow-minded that they ignore what we atheists do, and instead impose their own bigoted interpretations of what atheists would hypothetically do…exactly as you have done here.

    Thanks for making my point for me.

  41. #41 Daryl McCullough
    March 14, 2006

    Also, Dabodius,

    There is a big difference between hostility towards Christianity and hostility towards Christians. The latter sort of hostility is almost nonexistent in the United States; certainly PZ doesn’t participate in it. In contrast, there seems to be a great deal of hostility towards atheists.

  42. #42 Keith Douglas
    March 14, 2006

    I still think this issue counts as one of the key signs that the US needs a new political party. There are millions of eligible but unvoting people and I understand surveys show the population to be much more progressive than either party, so there’s plenty of room …

  43. #43 Paul W.
    March 14, 2006

    Stauffenberg writes:

    After all, he is a fundamentalist atheist…quite vocal in his beliefs.

    Do you know what the word “fundmentalist” means? Maybe I’m misunderstanding you, but it sounds like you think a “fundamentalist” is anybody who vocally disagrees with anybody else, so that in effect, vocal = strident = fundamentalist.

    Not so.

    The term “fundamentalist” was originally coined by evangelical Christians, to denote people who accept five points of orthodoxy: (1) biblical inerrancy, (2) virgin birth, (3) substitutionary atonement, (4) bodily resurrection, and (5) Jesus’s miracles.

    More generally, when talking about Christians, the term can be somewhat fuzzy and refer to people who more or less believe most of these things, such that you get degrees of fundamentalism.

    And much more generally, the term fundamentalism has come to be used across religions, to describe a cross-cultural phenomenon of similarly orthodox religious movements, based in scripture—such as the Qu’ran, the Vedas, or the Book of Mormon—and in opposition to modernism because of conflicts between the scriptures and secular principles of thought, argument, and politics.

    If you’re going to refer to somebody as an “atheist fundamentalist,” you need to explain what that means. What are the central half-dozen dogmas of atheism, and in what sense are they dogmas? What are the inerrant scriptures of atheism? How does that lead to conflicts with modernism?

    If you can’t explain that pretty clearly, talking about “fundamentalist atheists” amounts to nothing more than saying that some atheists are outspoken, and you don’t like that.

    If so, get over it and read P.Z.’s post again. You missed the whole point.

  44. #44 Alon Levy
    March 14, 2006

    I don’t read Drum unless I see everyone I trust linking to a particular post of his and says it is good. Which is a rare occurence.

    I don’t read Kevin Drum, period.

    This is why Atrios says we shouldn’t bother kowtowing to people who won’t vote for us anyway. Instead, we need to get more single women — who don’t vote often, but when they do vote, vote Democratic — into the voting booths.

    No, no, no… the idea that the Democrats only need to get out the vote has been around for about 20 years and failed every time it was tried.

    The opportunity to have this discussion will undoubtedly arise again when Hillary starts campaigning for the Presidency. Her old comments re “traditional” lifestyles for women (was it something about baking cookies?) will be, uh, resurrected and the question will be: how will she respond? Will she take the opportunity to a make a positive statement on behalf of women and the choices available to women? Or will she kiss the religionists’ womenfolks bare feet?

    Judging by her record in the Senate, she’ll cave in, as usual. I’d much rather see her retire from politics entirely.

    And this sort of thing is strating to ahppen over here (England) as well …. arrrggghhhH!

    In the meantime, will Gilaed come after the 2008 election, or the 2016 one?

    Well, in my book it’s 2020 (and the Democratic candidate is a religious fanatic who thinks social issues are a distraction from left-wing economics).

    What is clear as day to most of us but apparently utterly opaque to the Dems is that the party needs to offer a clear, sane, secular alternative. Freedom of religion together with separation of church and state. Tolerance. Respect for science and education. No meddling in people’s private sex lives. Women’s rights. Fair fiscal policies and social services. Taking care of the environment. Stopping corporate thieves and polluters. No more nutty wars and no more torture. This is basic, basic, stuff that most Americans would stand behind, and that many would find a welcome alternative to the neo-fascist Godbaggery of the Republicans.

    Exactly… if the Democrats stop being afraid of being liberal, they’ll do a lot better in elections, and at the same time the US will get a far more sensible government. Dukakis lost not because he was a liberal but because he was a crappy politician.

    Can anyone imagine a Jew being elected president?

    Yes, I can. Feingold shares with Dean and Edwards the distinction of being the most electable Democratic politician.

    Moreover, deeming the community and ultimate concerns of millions of voters “a blight upon the earth” can get in the way of canvassing them.

    The problem with canvassing voters with explicitly socially conservative concerns is that they tend to want things in return for their votes.

  45. #45 KenL
    March 14, 2006

    Paul W: nothing irks me more than the (puerile?) pedantic “dictionary definition” argument.

    Language is fluid. Meanings change. This is a fundamental (heh) property of language. The current colloquial use of “fundamentalist” means something akin to ‘a person with passionately held, extremely dogmatic beliefs who is fundamentally (heh) intolerant of other contesting beliefs’.

    Yeah, there’s a religious allusion to “fundamentalist” as well, but that shouldn’t stop any rational, fluent speaker of current everyday colloquial English from being able to figure out what a “fundamentalist atheist” refers to. Even assuming that it was an entirely new and innovative construction to you.

    =====

    PZ: I’m curious to know what your solution is. For better or worse (usually worse), this is a two-party system, and the system is entrenched in the political institutions of this country. Unless you figure that going (R) is your better bet, you’re going to have to work with the current collection of folks cobbled together under the (D) big tent.

    Christianity used to be associated with the (D) not so very long ago, and also with liberalism, social justice, progressivism, and (lo!) secularism and the separation of church and state. Granted you might not agree with the specific strategies Sullivan and Waldman (et al) are using, but they’re attempting to address what they see as a core problem:

    (1) The evangelical right, and the GOP, have hijacked/kidnapped/etc Christianity
    (2) The left has been very successfully caricatured as godless, arrogant elites.

    While there may be disagreement about the inherent value of any one religion, trying to kick people out of the tent for a minor squabble over tactics, particularly when you’re currently the loser minority in a two-party system, seems like a grand way to ensure the continued dominance of a political party currently in the vise-like grip of a religious subculture whose politics and beliefs are essentially antithetical to your own.

  46. #46 george cauldron
    March 14, 2006

    After all, he is a fundamentalist atheist…quite vocal in his beliefs.

    But why act suprised when Christians, not just “fundies” are worried about what would happen if people like you had control over them?

    I am worried too, about any kind of fundamentalist…atheist or theist…having control over me.

    You are overlooking a very basic point, which is that your boogiemen of ‘fundamentalist atheists’ are far more willing to vote for a Christian than Christians would ever be to vote for an atheist. And I feel safe in saying that there’s much more rank-and-file hostility to atheists in America than there is toward Christians. So I would ask you to consider which is a bigger and more pernicious source of bigotry in this country.

  47. #47 Eric Blair
    March 14, 2006

    Fortunately, atheists will not change.

    Since they already think they know it all…they are “brights” you know.

    But don’t worry, all that means it they won’t actually win elections, and just “win” at throwing insults on sites like this,

    Bahahahahahahahaha!

  48. #48 george cauldron
    March 14, 2006

    Since they already think they know it all…they are “brights” you know.

    As opposed to fundamentalist Christians, who are constantly scrutinizing their own preconceptions and changing their beliefs when required by the evidence…

  49. #49 george cauldron
    March 14, 2006

    Could there be such a thing as a fundamentalist Unitarian? My sister-in-law claims to be one.

  50. #50 Paul W.
    March 14, 2006

    Paul W: nothing irks me more than the (puerile?) pedantic “dictionary definition” argument. Language is fluid. Meanings change. This is a fundamental (heh) property of language.

    I agree that meanings change, and “fundamentalist” is a cluster concept. That’s why I gave what I think are the most important two senses of the word.

    The current colloquial use of “fundamentalist” means something akin to ‘a person with passionately held, extremely dogmatic beliefs who is fundamentally (heh) intolerant of other contesting beliefs’.

    I’m not sure I buy that as the right colloquial definition of “fundamentalist”, or a good use of the word. It runs together the issue of how passionate somebody’s beliefs are with their reasons for believing them, i.e., extreme dogmatism.

    And at any rate, to say that P.Z. is “extremely dogmatic” is just wrong.

    Yeah, there’s a religious allusion to “fundamentalist” as well, but that shouldn’t stop any rational, fluent speaker of current everyday colloquial English from being able to figure out what a “fundamentalist atheist” refers to. Even assuming that it was an entirely new and innovative construction to you.

    Oh, I think I figured it out. But to call somebody who’s obviously not a fundamentalist in either of the paradigmatic senses I gave is pretty much just name-calling. That’s my point.

    In contrast, it’s not just name-calling to call, say, Jerry Falwell or the Southern Baptist Convention fundamentalist. They overtly espouse the five points of the original, paradigmatic Christian Evangelical fundamentalism, and are obviously fundamentalist in the larger, cross-cultural sense as well. They may not like the label “fundamentalist,” but both paradigmatic senses fit them point by point.

    Those points do not fit P.Z. Calling P.Z. a fundamentalist is like calling anybody to the left of the center of the Democratic Party a Communist. Why not just call P.Z. a Communist, and be done with it?

    But back to your sense of “fundamentalist.” It seems to me the critical issue in justifying calling P.Z. a “fundamentalist” is not just his passionate advocacy of certain views. (Calling him a passionate advocate of views wouldn’t sound nearly so bad.)
    It’s his alleged extreme dogmatism and his supposed intolerance of “other contesting beliefs.”

    Hence my question about the dogmas in question. What views are you claiming P.Z. holds extremely dogmatically, as opposed to for rational reasons he’s quite willing to explain in his blog?

    And I still don’t see what you mean about P.Z. being “fundamentally intolerant” of conflicting beliefs. He already said that he votes for Christians and even actively campaigns for them, despite holding and advocating contradictory beliefs. What more do you want?

    It sounds to me like you and Stauffenberg feel free to label anybody who speaks out against any opposing view, or speaks out more forcefully than you would, a “fundamentalist.”

    That’s stretching the word a bit too far. It leads to split-the-difference compromising, where people near either end of a spectrum are by definition “fundamentalists” (or “extremists”) in a bad sense, irrespective of how extreme their actual views are—i.e., whether they are true or justified on the one hand, or arbitrary and truly dogmatic on the other. (So, for example, I guess committed anti-child-abuse advocates are “fundamentalists” because they’re outspokenly against people who want to abuse children.)

    The bottom line is that I honestly don’t understand how calling P.Z. a “fundamentalist” makes sense, except as off-base name-calling. For it to be something more than that, you need to be clearer.

    I ask again: what are the dogmas? Are they really dogmas? And which “dogmas” is P.Z. extremely dogmatic about? Seriously, having read a fair bit of P.Z.’s writing, I do not know what you’re talking about.

    And what constitutes the fundamental intolerance of which you speak, besides having views and being passionately and articulately outspoken about them, to the point of explicitly contradicting some commonly-held and cherished beliefs. Exactly why is that a bad thing?

  51. #51 KenL
    March 14, 2006

    Paul W: seems you’re missing the crux of my objection. I’m objecting to the form of your argument (fallacious pedantry), not its intended purpose, which you’ve since clarified.

    Since you were rather clearly and definitively able to figure out the meaning of the term, attacking it as nonsensical and badly formed is itself nonsensical. To wit: your “dictionary definition” argument fails utterly when it’s clear that you know what it meant despite its supposedly not meaning what it does.

    As to the rest, please vent your fury elsewhere. My dismay at the form of your argument does not mean I am defending the use of the term to describe PZ.

    =====

    Col Bat Guano: sorry. I read “tar and feather ‘em” between the lines, along with no small amount of disgust, not only in PZ’s original post, but also in this thread that follows.

    I’ve read and re-read the original Waldman/Sullivan quotes. I don’t see the reason for the blistering criticism. Is there some historical context that places their writings in a different interpretive light? There seems to be an awful lot of energy here spent “policing” them and reading vile abominations into the words they’ve put down.

    W&S are not advocating a retreat on any progressive platform. They are not the demon gremlins responsible for the downfall of liberal success at the polls, as being portrayed here. They are at most guilty of somewhat condescendingly chiding their allies for over-exuberance. For this sin, there seems to be plenty of folks happy to draw and quarter them.

    Yes, what they are saying are (R) talking points. Those are also the existing, widespread public perceptions of (D), liberals, and progressives. I simply fail to see what the practical outcome is, if the response to this is less “well, duh, what else is new” and more “kill the messenger!”

  52. #52 KenL
    March 14, 2006

    nate: I agree that PZ is unlikely to be a “fundamentalist atheist”, I disagree that an atheist is *by definition* incapable of being a fundamentalist.

    If you are trying to argue otherwise, you’re playing the same bad “dictionary definition” game that Paul W is — you have simply changed the focus to the word “dogma”.

    I am happy that you have yet to meet a “fundamentalist atheist”. I’ll remind you that this does not mean that this is therefore, necessarily, an impossible thing.

  53. #53 Paul W.
    March 14, 2006

    Ken L,

    Sorry to be all pedantic on your ass, but I don’t think I’m playing the bad “dictionary definition” game you accuse me of. I certainly don’t think dictionary definitions are ultimate arbiters of anything. What’s important is the actual phenomena they refer to, and whether they fail to refer to any real “natural kind” of phenomenon. Word senses work in subtle ways, but that doesn’t mean “anything goes.”

    So, for example, if somebody refers to liberals as “Commies” or “traitors,” that’s either a bad metaphor, just intended to convey a negative value judgement, or it’s just a lie, or something oddly in-between, because somebody’s failing to make some significant distinctions. No matter how you slice it, it’s worth calling that person on that admittedly recognizable but nonetheless twisted and Orwellian usage. It’s time to get pedantic—which is better than countering with similarly cheap shots.

    Likewise, if Stauffenberg calls people like P.Z. “fundamentalist” atheists, I think it’s a reasonable place to draw the line and point out that it’s either false or failing to make any useful distinctions, while being apparently false and insulting.

    The fact that maybe I can guess part of what he meant and interpret it charitably as “loose talk” doesn’t make it any more true or appropriate. And it doesn’t tell me how much of the other bullshit was intended—why pick that word, in this context?

    By your logic, it seems to me, Ann Coulter can call somebody who’s against the war a “traitor,” and that should be okay because we sorta “know what she means.” (Problem is, we do.) Or if you have sex with somebody that I think is too young for you, but who isn’t a minor, I could call you a child molester. Maybe you’ll know what I mean.

    If I smile when I say something like that, maybe it’s okay. But if Stauffenberg calls somebody a fundamentalist and closes with “continue spewing your bile,” it’s not. A “pedantic” response is about the nicest Stauffenberg should expect.

    And if you’re going to call people pedantic dictionary-gamers, don’t be making such fine distinctions yourself, e.g., about whether a fundamentalist atheist is really impossible in principle, or just rare in practice, as though it mattered in this context. Pedant. :-)

  54. #54 Loren Petrich
    March 14, 2006

    First, how does one distinguish a fundamentalist atheist from a non-fundamentalist atheist?

    And Waldman and Sullivan are not quite what I’d call serious Religious Left. A serious religious leftie would claim religious justification for liberal/left positions, like pointing to Jesus Christ’s Temple temper tantrum as a prototypical example of why business leaders must be distrusted.

    I think that the emergence of a serious Religious Left would induce the right-wingers to become born-again secularists. Which would certainly be a sight to see. Michael Kinsley had once noted that political fashions tend to travel from left to right. I remember how pacifist right-wingers were about Clinton’s wars.

    Also, I think that our electoral system needs to be reformed. There’s nothing special about voting for only one candidate for each office; that discriminates against third parties and perpetuates the current Democratic-Republican duopoly. There are numerous alternative election systems that have been proposed and used, systems that are more friendly to third parties; we Americans ought to consider some such systems:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voting_system

  55. #55 Dabodius
    March 14, 2006

    Yes, Daryl McCullough, atheists are much more vilified than evangelicals. I am not interested in vilifying atheists, who include some of the best people I have known, but in urging, again, that those liberals who are openly hostile to evangelical Christianity or who suppose that evangelicals are our political adversaries, because the Christian Right is, are making it less likely that evangelicals will vote for our candidates.
    As for distinguishing hostility towards Christianity from hostility towards individual Christians — a man is not his mother, but take care what you say about her to him. It can be hard to make the practical distinction between disrespect towards oneself and towards something one identifies with — a community, religion, person. “Hate the sin, love the sinner,” said Augustine — but someone out and gay and being hustled by a smiling evangelist who professes both love for the prospective convert and abhorrence for the vile depravity of her gay identity might notice less love than hatred for herself. Or again, suppose I say that I have nothing against people who identify as atheists, but excoriated atheism as “a blight upon the earth.” Are you sure you wouldn’t take it personally?

  56. #56 KenL
    March 14, 2006

    Paul W: Good lord. You do enjoy the rhetoric.

    A bad argument gets no better when you justify it on other grounds. Fallacious pedantry is lousy argumentation, no matter how many straw men you throw at an entirely different point.

    Again, I take affront at the structure of your argument, not the content. Since you have (again) demonstrated that you are capable of distinguishing the two, it seems you have indeed “gotten” my point, your concluding rhetorical fallacy about logic being logic except when it’s pedantry (“tu quoque”) aside. Next time, perhaps you might be better served making the points you have made in the manner you have made them, in the last two posts you’ve written to me — but instead to a post like Stauffenberg’s to begin with.

    =====

    Rieux: “Ah, ‘between the lines.’ That lovely realm where we get to ignore what people are actually writing and use pigeonhole stereotypes as interpretive tools.”

    Actually, I was thinking of that lovely realm where all human beans, yourself and myself included, actually put meaning to what people “actually” write and use context and background knowledge as interpretive tools.

    I get your point, and appreciate your having actually answered the question (in the remainder of the post), but that’s a lot of snark to have to wade through to get to it.

    I understand why after having been shat on for long enough, one gets mad and doesn’t want to take it any more. In this case, it seems monstrously counter-productive, even granted that this is a semi-private and largely anonymous venting session for folks who need to vent.

    But a gang-bang beat-down every time someone on *your own frikkin side* says something that irks you, does nothing to keep open the lines of communication between you and your nominal allies. Given as how secular/atheism is not (as everyone is happy to point out) a majority of any kind, the calculus seems pretty clearly to be:

    (1) Waldman/Sullivan’s foot-in-mouth disease is horrifically insulting and I won’t stand for it. Therefore it behooves me to go out of my way to educate my allies.

    (2) W/S said something ridiculous, but that’s about par for the course, and not worth getting into a tizzy over.

    Instead, what I’m seeing here is option (3):

    (3) This is a big deal, and I don’t need friends like that. I can stand just fine on my own, thanks. Screw W/S.

    If this is how folks in a “minority” group actually went about things with real people, face-to-face, in the flesh-and-blood world, it would be a wonder if they didn’t end up spectacularly self-destructing in terms of political power in a very short time. They sure as heck wouldn’t be doing a bang-up job making friends and influencing people (at least, not positively).

    Oh wait. The targets of this vehemence *are* real people. The only “difference” is the modality of the Internets.

    So let’s assume that I’m an atheist like PZ. Let’s assume that I think religion is a load of bunk, and that the sort of stuff W/S says actually does annoy me greatly. Let’s assume that you actually believe that this characterizes me accurately, and that you aren’t caught up in any lingering doubts because the “lovely realm” of interpretive context is suggesting to you that I wouldn’t have put it quite this way if it were, but assume you believe me anyway.

    Assume all this, and explain to me why I would, as a rational actor, actually be serious about my desire to

    (a) characterize the religious left (my political allies, remember) as any number of rather pejorative things.

    (b) imply that they would be incapable of disentangling themselves from their Religion (which starts with an (R), after all), and thus incapable of voting for a political candidate that was an atheist.

    (c) cheerfully lump together all religious folk, with the implication that they’re all basically right-wing kooks.

    (d) suggest that religion of any kind is antithetical to egalitarianism, individual choice, and those nebulous American ideals.

    (e) slyly imply, at least twice, that religious folk are a bunch of ignorant yahoos wasting their time and energy on a bunch of lies and fairy dust.

    …all in response to a series of rather banal observations about liberal antipathy to right-wing evangelicalism (which, yes, include a GOP talking point)?

    Answer (pick one):

    (i) I am venting.
    (ii) I am high.
    (iii) I am insane.
    (iv) I revel in my powerless underdog status and would never wish to improve my station, ever.

    (v) I am incapable of moderating my words or behaviors even in a situation where it is clearly in my best interest to do any of a series of other things, therefore I must believe in these things so deeply and passionately that I am willing to expressly work against my own best interests, ignore all other options available to me, and violently attack someone on my own team with ruthless efficiency.

    =====

    I personally think it’s (i). But it’s certainly quite easy for someone to end up recreating the sequence and thinking it’s something else. Maybe even something that results in a construction like, oh, “fundamentalist atheist”. All they have to do is take PZ’s rant seriously, and read all the words that he ACTUALLY WROTE as direct, literal truth.

    PZ is a grown-up, this is his own damn blog, and he can say whatever he wants. I know I thoroughly enjoy his rants, too, which is why I keep coming back.

    But in practical terms, what’s the point of all this caterwauling? There’s a limit to its utility as therapy, and I really do get tired of the repetitive, circle-jerk nature of these comment threads. And I do wonder why PZ, who is an educator and a scholar, seems to have such an obvious and consistent blind-spot when it comes to education, outreach, and development.

    Again — this is a two-party, winner-take-all system. Party (R) very, very clearly is a poor choice for virtually all of us here. That *seems* to leave us with Party (D), and if there’s something wrong with (D) as well, the solution seems to be — fix (D). Trying to kick out huge chunks of (D) in the fixing of it may be one choice, but that does strike me as amazingly sub-optimal.

  57. #57 GeorgeR
    March 15, 2006

    KenL:

    Wow, to excoriate someone for “venting” with an overwrought, 30-or-so paragraph response is just so….ballsy.

    So nice of you to concentrate on deconstructing the structures of arguments rather then their content for us. What value could that actual contents of arguments hold, after all?

    All so much intellectual masturbation…

  58. #58 Great White Wonder
    March 15, 2006

    KenL

    I really do get tired of the repetitive, circle-jerk nature of these comment threads.

    That’s because you’re always the last one to cum.

  59. #59 Lucky Pierre
    March 16, 2006

    I really do get tired of the repetitive, circle-jerk nature of these comment threads

    Wasn’t the point of this thread that we should all be pulling together?

  60. #60 Edwin Jobling
    February 22, 2007

    Loren Petrich, may I bring your attention to your refutation of a “Religious Left”? Such people and organisations have existed for some time; as you used Wikipedia, I will follow form: look at the articles on Leo Tolstoy, Adin Ballou, Christian Communism and Christian anarchism.

  61. #61 ANP
    August 12, 2007

    Waldman’s Jewish.

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