Pharyngula

We aim to misbehave

Larry Moran raised an interesting comparison over at Laden’s place. In response to this constant whining that loud-and-proud atheism ‘hurts the cause’, he brought up a historical parallel:

Here’s just one example. Do you realize that women used to march in the streets with placards demanding that they be allowed to vote? At the time the suffragettes were criticized for hurting the cause. Their radical stance was driving off the men who might have been sympathetic to women’s right to vote if only those women had stayed in their proper place.

This prompted the usual cry of the accommodationists: but feminists weren’t as rude as those atheists.

Were the women saying that men were stupid? Were they portraying them as rubes and simpletons? Were they falling into the trap of making themselves resemble the negative stereotypes of women at the time? IIRC, the answers are No, No, and No. Substitute “atheists” for “women” and “theists” for “men,” and the answers are emphatically Yes, Yes, and Yes. It is one thing to be assertive. It is another thing to be gratuitously rude.

This is so blind and ahistorical, I’m embarrassed for the guy. The suffragettes were ferocious firebreathers of a most admirable sort who did not mince words and went far further than atheists have gone — yet. As one example:

To attain the goal of universal suffrage, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU, known colloquially as the suffragettes) engaged in acts of protest such as the breaking of windows, arson, and the “technical assault” (without causing harm) of police officers. Many WSPU members were jailed for these offenses.

Try reading the literature of the feminist pioneers. They weren’t just rude, they were howling at injustice, they were breaking deep social mores, and they were abused, despised, and imprisoned for it — and they still are. Jebus. You think all women had to do to get recognition of their basic rights was to be polite? You think they got the right to vote by asking nicely? That soft voices and meekness are the answers?

I take it back. I should be embarrassed for us atheists. When I look at the history of feminism, I see a ferocity and a record of sacrifice that puts us tame godless people to shame. Maybe we need to get more outraged and outrageous.

If you read some of the great writers of the feminist movement, what you’ll find is an eloquence that people like Richard Dawkins echo today. Their speeches were rousing calls to action, not paeans to passivity. These are words that people found “rude” then, and that we still see deplored by chauvinists today (have you ever heard the word “feminazi”?)

Elizabeth Cady Stanton
“The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls.”

“The whole tone of Church teaching in regard to women is, to the last degree, contemptuous and degrading.”

Lucretia Mott
“The world has never yet seen a truly great and virtuous nation because in the degradation of woman the very fountains of life are poisoned at their source.”

“I have no idea of submitting tamely to injustice inflicted either on me or on the slave. I will oppose it with all the moral powers with which I am endowed. I am no advocate of passivity.”

Mother Jones
“I’m not a humanitarian, I’m a hell-raiser.”

“Whatever your fight, don’t be ladylike. “

Susan B. Anthony
“Men their rights and nothing more; women their rights and nothing less.”

“The fact is, women are in chains, and their servitude is all the more debasing because they do not realize it.”

“Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform. Those who are really in earnest must be willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathy with despised and persecuted ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences.”

These women were treated as if they were bomb-throwing anarchists by the press, by politicians, by the wealthy elite, by every institution that had an interest in conserving the inequities of society. Even today we’ve got people like Phyllis Schlafly who decry “intolerant, uncivil feminists whose sport is to humiliate men” — I think everyone can see the similarity to the accusations against those intolerant, uncivil atheists.

Every social movement — and I’d add the labor movement and the struggle for civil rights as equally strong examples — that tries to break the bonds of mindless convention and tradition and that defies established privilege gets accused of being rude and worse, much worse, and there are always weak apologists for the status quo who use that pathetic etiquette excuse to try and silence the revolutionaries. Successful revolutionaries ignore the admonitions about which fork to use for their salad because they care only to grab the steak knife as they launch themselves over the table.

Atheists are calm and mild-mannered, even leaders of the New Atheists like Dawkins and Harris and Dennett — no doubt because our oppression is minor compared to that of women, racial minorities, and labor — but we’re still getting these ridiculous claims that we’re too “rude”. They won’t stop until we’re completely silent, and there’s no point in compromise, so these faint-hearted enablers of superstition are going to have to excuse us if we ever so politely request that they go fuck themselves, beg pardon, and please, use a rolled-up copy of the Republican party platform to do it, if you don’t mind, thank you in advance.

Comments

  1. #1 Blake Stacey, OM
    April 21, 2007

    I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

    Letter from Birmingham Jail (1963), Martin Luther King, Jr.

  2. #2 PZ Myers
    April 21, 2007

    Obviously, the message we should take from MLK is that they needed to do a better job of framing.

  3. #3 Leni
    April 21, 2007

    PZ wrote:

    You think all women had to do to get recognition of their basic rights was to be polite? You think they got the right to vote by asking nicely?

    ROFL.

    That was a very, very good answer.

  4. #4 Blake Stacey, OM
    April 21, 2007

    PZ:

    Obviously, the message we should take from MLK is that they needed to do a better job of framing.

    Obviously.

    In fact, I think the message we should take from King is that we need to claim the moral high ground. This is difficult to do when the churches have set themselves up as the arbiters of morality (one way in which King definitely had a tactical advantage). In essence, we have to be more moral than God.

    A quick glance over God’s rap sheet suggests that this is, indeed, possible.

  5. #5 Stogoe
    April 21, 2007

    Being more moral than God is remarkably easy. Step 1: Don’t commit mass genocide (the most exhausting activity one can engage in, next to soccer).

    The harder part is getting people to recognize it.

  6. #6 Timothy Chase
    April 21, 2007

    PZ wrote:

    Atheists are calm and mild-mannered, even leaders of the New Atheists like Dawkins and Harris and Dennett — no doubt because our oppression is minor compared to that of women, racial minorities, and labor — but we’re still getting these ridiculous claims that we’re too “rude”.

    I can most certainly agree with you there. Of course, it also helps to keep in mind the fact that the vast majority is religious, so if someone on “your side” insists on calling them “God-besotted” or ignorant or what have you, that might not necessarily be a good thing – in as much as it might encourage the majority start thinking in terms of “us vs them.”

    *

    As for this timid, weak appeaser (assuming a quasi-Spinozist counts – and talk about a minority!), what I would recommend is letting people know that you are not religious and that you insist on having the same, equal rights with everyone else – unless of course you have something else in mind. Is the main problem the fact that you are lacking certain freedom, e.g., to believe the way that you do, or that others also have the right to believe differently? Or is it the fact that you are insulted – or that people take insult and otherwise consider it a bad thing when you insult others?

    I don’t mean to be especially thick, but after all the highly charged, emotional rhetoric, cries of persecution, and angry ennunciations of revolutionary intent, I am still pretty much in the dark about what it is that you are after.

    Oh well, I guess some day I might figure it out.

    *

    As for why you aren’t religious, it is likely that many of the religious will have about as much interest in your reasons as you do in why they are religious. So it probably isn’t necessary you to bring this up beyond a one-liner – unless they actually are interested. Or at least this is what would seem to be appropriate to a balanced, measured and rational approach.

  7. #7 Henry Culver
    April 21, 2007

    Timothy, I’d like to point out that my paternal ancestor arrived at the MA. Bay colony in 1635 and that it is still technically illegal for me to hold public office in 7 states in the U.S. because I am an atheist. G.Bush 41 stated publically that atheists should be denied citizenship. There are many other examples. Maybe you don’t mean to be especially thick.

  8. #8 Colugo
    April 21, 2007

    The analogy between suffragettes and New Atheists fails. The suffragettes weren’t saying that eventually all men should be converted into women in the service of reason and human progress, as the New Atheists tell the theists that their collective conversion to atheism is inevitable and desirable. The suffragettes didn’t speak of a zero-sum conflict between women and men.

    Sam Harris, Edge.org: “‘Science Must Destroy Religion’: “The conflict between religion and science is inherent and (very nearly) zero-sum.”. I could cite many more such quotes from Michel Onfray et al.

    (Do many – if not most – theists use similar zero-sum and martial rhetoric? They sure do. That’s one of the things that makes religious zealots irksome.)

    These features are what makes New Atheists different from most past atheists and so-called “appeaser” atheists:

    1. Slamming those once regarded as allies – a) insufficiently militant atheists (Chamberlainites), b) religious liberals (because they provide cover for fundamentalists), and c) theistic evolutionists (stealth creationists) – as being grossly inadequate allies or even tools of the enemy (namely, theistic fundamentalists who are attempting to impose theocracy and destroy science).

    2. Insisting that atheism (and more broadly, metaphysical naturalism) is not just a philosophical position but a scientific one. This position is the opposite of nonoverlapping magesteria: science has falsified God, the soul, and the afterlife. Further, a scientist with a healthy, coherent mind (that is, lacking in deforming cognitive dissonance) is atheistic and naturalistic in all domains.

    I understand where the New Atheists are coming from; I used to be more militant myself. They are quite certain that they are on the side of the angels, so to speak. However, the sincere reconciliationist nonbelievers (not those who simply have a different strategy than Dawkins et al. and view ‘appeasers’ and liberal religionists as currently useful) like Scott Atran and and Mel Konner understand how deeply rooted religion is.

  9. #9 Kurt
    April 21, 2007

    I’m coming late to the “framing” debate, but it seems to me that the main problem with Mooney and Nisbet is that, if they’re talking to scientists then they’re addressing the wrong audience. Who is it that’s “framing” the debate against global warming, or in favor of teaching ID in science classes, etc.? Conservative scientists? Mostly, no. It’s being done by conservative politicians, think tanks, and religious leaders who are acting in the political sphere. So just who should be “framing” the other side of the debate? The only reason that scientists are being asked to get engaged in this debate is because progressive politicians have totally dropped the ball. The things Mooney and Nisbet are saying might make a lot of sense if they were being directed to, say, the DNC. Democratic politicians have been loath to take on this debate for the same reasons they were all too willing to give George W. Bush everything he wanted regarding Iraq, and it’s frankly disgusting. Maybe now that they can see what their lack of spine has brought on this country, they might be a little more willing to stand up for scientific integrity.

    One can only hope.

  10. #10 JohnFen
    April 21, 2007

    Timothy Chase wrote

    I can most certainly agree with you there. Of course, it also helps to keep in mind the fact that the vast majority is religious, so if someone on “your side” insists on calling them “God-besotted” or ignorant or what have you, that might not necessarily be a good thing – in as much as it might encourage the majority start thinking in terms of “us vs them.”

    Actually, encouraging the majority to start thinking in terms of “us vs them” is the goal. It can be a winning strategy.

    In order to think in those terms, a person must think, actually examine their own thoughts on the subject. This may be in a negative way, trying to get “ammunition” to shoot down their opponent, but in the process some will discover they agree with the other side and didn’t realize it before. If the thinking never occured, that realization would never come.

    The PR trick is that confrontation can’t be the only strategy employed. You have to have a little “good cop/bad cop” going on — with radical, in-your-face, rude activism kicking people in the brains while the more “reasonable, moderate” activists are there to comfort the shaken while reinforcing the basic message.

  11. #11 Zeno
    April 21, 2007

    I presume that I’m not the only person who sees some interesting parallels between “out” atheists versus the skeptical accommodationists who worry about the tender sensibilities of the god-ridden and the drag queens who rioted at Stonewall versus the button-down “straight-acting” gays who preferred an extremely low-key behind-the-scenes approach.

    I posted some comments along these lines last week, including a picture of PZ, Dawkins, and Mooney on Gay Pride day. I swear! Although PZ came by with a strenuous denial.

    End of blogwhoring. Your regular program now resumes in progress.

  12. #12 Siobhan
    April 21, 2007

    More gratuitous rudeness please.

    You, Dawkins, Harris etc. have been saying – hollering from the rooftops – all the things that people like me have been thinking quietly for years. And it’s about fucking time.

    I read Dawkins book late last year, found your blog, read Harris’s End of Faith all within a few months, and let me tell you – it felt like opening the windows after a long, dark winter. Millennia of respectful tip-toeing respect for absurdities just blown away.

    Thank you for that.

  13. #13 PZ Myers
    April 21, 2007

    Oh, my, Zeno…and there’s Ramsey in the comments again, that time arguing that Martin Luther King was so inoffensive and offered nobody a good reason to hate him, unlike Dawkins.

    That guy certainly has a peculiar view of history…all the winners were always so damned polite.

  14. #14 CalGeorge
    April 21, 2007

    Hip, hip, hooray!

    Newsflash:

    The Pope has declared that children who die unbaptized can go to heaven.

    Isn’t that special?

    “Vatican watchers hailed the decision as both a sensitive and significant move by Benedict.”

    http://www.mb.com.ph/MAIN2007042292344.html

    The brainless, pointy-hatted doofus has spoken. The brainless, pointy-hat-worshipping doofi have nodded their approval.

    What a troop of morons.

  15. #15 RedMolly
    April 21, 2007

    A brief point of clarification: I am wholeheartedly in favor of atheism of the New, fire-breathing variety. I am just sort of a timid and retiring person by nature and don’t feel comfortable with that kind of direct confrontation; I would rather just shamelessly ride along on the fire-breathers’ coat-tails. Little in history has been accomplished by the unfailingly polite; that is why little in history will be accomplished by me.

  16. #16 natural cynic
    April 21, 2007

    Colugo: The suffragettes weren’t saying that eventually all men should be converted into women in the service of reason and human progress, as the New Atheists tell the theists that their collective conversion to atheism is inevitable and desirable. The suffragettes didn’t speak of a zero-sum conflict between women and men.

    It really depends on the definition of “zero-sum”. If it’s purely a sense of political power, then enfranchisement of women will be a zero-sum situation – men lose some power while women gain that much power. The same thing for one theist becoming one atheist. But I don’t think of the situation in those simple terms. The suffragist movement was more about empowering women than disempowering women – it was for making a place for women at a larger table so as to include women. At least at this point in time, the position is that atheists are excluded from the table simply by being atheists. See the Bush quote above. Many theists would exclude atheists from the body politic and even exclude them from citizenship. This is the situation now, and it needs to be eliminated. The fact that one is an atheist should not be a consideration for holding public office, military service, having one’s opinions respected or other manifestation of full participation in society. The problem IMHO is marginalization of people due to their lack of religious feelings just as women were excluded from full participation in society due to the lack of a Y chromosome.

  17. #17 John Pourtless
    April 21, 2007

    “Atheists are calm and mild-mannered, even leaders of the New Atheists like Dawkins and Harris and Dennett — no doubt because our oppression is minor compared to that of women, racial minorities, and labor — but we’re still getting these ridiculous claims that we’re too “rude”. They won’t stop until we’re completely silent, and there’s no point in compromise, so these faint-hearted enablers of superstition are going to have to excuse us if we ever so politely request that they go fuck themselves, beg pardon, and please, use a rolled-up copy of the Republican party platform to do it, if you don’t mind, thank you in advance.”

    Bully for PZ!

  18. #18 JebusCripes
    April 21, 2007

    Apartheid did not begin to crumble until the ANC began training outside South Africa with military weapons and tactics. The realization that the ANC was going to war against the SA police is what brought apartheid to an end.

    It wasn’t ‘asking nice’ or ‘being polite’ or ‘showing respect’. It was making them shit their pants.

  19. #19 Kagehi
    April 21, 2007

    Timothy, there two issues here, demonization and irrationality.

    Demonization means that essentially admitting you are an atheist in those areas where the people we are having problems with are dominate (and that isn’t every place where there is religious belief) means loss of *everything*. You can lose your family, your friends, your job and even in extreme cases your life. Why? Because *we* are supposedly some vast evil cabal whose sole purpose isn’t to try to tell the truth to the best we *understand it*, but instead to undermine and destroy every single person in the world that likes to insist that the truth lies in what they *believe* about it. Well, no. We don’t really have a problem with the ones that think rationally. The ones we have a problem with are the nuts that twist their own holy book into a pretzel so they can ignore all the stuff that they **know** doesn’t work, while still forcing on everyone around them the stuff they *believe* still does.

    This is the second issue. Irrationality. The idea that exorcism is acceptable, even if it means that you tie someone to a bed and beat them, but stoning isn’t. Why? Not because either one makes fracking sense, but solely because the former is still “approved”, while the later isn’t.

    Lets put it this way. If two people invented drugs. One permanently cured cancer and AIDS, and also gave everyone double the life spans, but it made you a crave sex continuously for two hours after taking it. The other *only* cures AIDS, has no life extension at all, and renders everyone that takes it incapable of thinking about sex. Guess which one the people *we* have a problem with would pick and why… See, curing nearly every serious disease we have today and making people live healthy lives twice as long is *less* important than if they want to screw someone more than normal for two hours. Just look at the HPV vaccine issue. Here we have what is practically a cure for a major cause of death among women and its being apposed by these loons based on what? That some kids *might* ignore the “Just say no to sex!”, message even more than they already do *if* you cured them. This makes about as much damn sense as if the Bible declared coughing a sacred act so they denied people Hepatitis treatment on the grounds that infecting more people was “holy”, in that it made them all cough more. It makes no damn sense, but its exactly the sort of BS we have to put up with.

    Want a better example? If we found out that in two years a big rock would hit the earth and kill every living thing, but the scientists determined that it was made of something that could be broken up into fist sized chunks with one missile hit, saving all of us, who the hell do you think is going to be standing in long picket lines outside the launch facilities, or worse, using sniper rifles to try to kill the people working on launching the missile, Atheists? The irrationality of these people is dangerous and could get us all killed some day, whether from some plague they refused to let us cure, it being God’s will, or some other crap, especially if they get more and more power in the political process and can torpedo sound science, research, health programs, medicines, foreign policies, etc. Not mind you that I find dipshits like Pelosi, whose solution is to kiss the ass of the leader of one of the countries we *know* are the number one worst offenders for supporting Jihadists, any better. The left has its own idiots, obviously, but they tend to limit their lunacy to specific tasks, not make wide sweeping attacks on *everything* to try to force our round world through the too small cross shaped hole in their knowledge and logic.

    Does that answer your question? And its the same damn argument that thinking people, never mind atheists, who are just the latest target of their ire, have been having with the same sort of clowns since some Greek philosophers dared to suggest that Zues might not be much of a god. We just make a more obvious target, because we tell them, “Zues can’t possible look like, act like, or intervene the way you keep insisting, since there isn’t one scrap of evidence he does, has or ever will, nor can **you** even agree from one moment to the next *if* he should, does or will do so, so he might as well not exist.”, instead of doing something **safe**, like saying, “Zues just doesn’t make sense, but now Hera on the other hand…”

  20. #20 Colugo
    April 21, 2007

    natural cynic: “The fact that one is an atheist should not be a consideration for holding public office, military service, having one’s opinions respected or other manifestation of full participation in society.”

    I wholeheartedly agree.

    There are several related but distinct movements that are sometimes conflated by all sides:

    1) separation of church and state (civil libertarian First Amendment Issues)
    2) teaching of evolution in public schools (e.g. Dover)
    3) advocacy of public policies related to science (global warming, stem cells etc.)
    4) skeptic/rationalist advocacy (CSICOP/CSI)
    5) atheist/freethinker visibility and rights (Free Inquiry, humanist movement..)
    6) New Atheism: zero-sum game / martial rhetoric; science = atheism; slamming “appeasers” and theistic evolutionists (stealth “creationists”)

    Atheists, freethinkers (Deists, agnostics..) and non-fundamentalist theists can be allied on 1), 2), and 3). Even some theists may be on the side of skeptics on 4). 5) is about rights and visibility. 6) is about making scientific claims regarding God and metaphysical naturalism (as opposed to methodological naturalism), and just as importantly, atheist proselytism. These movements, while rooted in rationalism and progressivism, are not inseparable.

    One of the defining moments in the early New Atheist movement was when Richard Dawkins broke down the boundaries between advocacy of science, skepticism, and atheism when he proposed at the 1992 CSICOP conference that religion was a “mind virus.” That was very controversial within CSICOP and the skeptic movement at the time.

  21. #21 natural cynic
    April 21, 2007

    Kahegi: Not mind you that I find dipshits like Pelosi, whose solution is to kiss the ass of the leader of one of the countries we *know* are the number one worst offenders for supporting Jihadists, any better

    Gee, it seems to me that you should include James Baker in this too – that’s what his commission wanted and that’s what GWB was too pigheaded to do. And the message that Pelosi had for Assad was that Democrats didn’t want him supporting Hezbullah, but were willing to make contacts. Somebody had to make the effort.

    Otherwise, pretty good post.

  22. #22 Timothy Chase
    April 21, 2007

    John Fen wrote:

    Actually, encouraging the majority to start thinking in terms of “us vs them” is the goal. It can be a winning strategy.

    In order to think in those terms, a person must think, actually examine their own thoughts on the subject. This may be in a negative way, trying to get “ammunition” to shoot down their opponent, but in the process some will discover they agree with the other side and didn’t realize it before. If the thinking never occured, that realization would never come.

    I don’t know as if you have noticed, but people don’t seem to be terribly good at thinking when they feel like they are being attacked. In fact the opposite is generally the rule – especially when it comes to what is at least potentially an ideology, and certainly has been at times in the past.

    *

    Religion is particularly well-suited to becoming a kind of “weltanschaung” which always has a response of sorts to any criticism which might be raised against it, typically in the form of ad hominem, much like classical Marxism, I suppose. But the parallels goes a little further than just this: Marxist science discovered that any failed prediction is at least potentially subject to reinterpretation and thus the preservation of its status as the one true science can always be assured.

    Then again, one could argue that Marx was religiously inspired – with the proletariat being his “chosen” and the establishment of the perfect communist society being his heaven. Didn’t actually turn out all that terribly well, but there are still a few out there that would argue we should still give it a little more time – and are otherwise keeping the faith, still waiting for the end of history – after the Apocalypse.

    Come Judgment Day, everyone will finally see that they were right.

    About everything.

    As a rule, not really the sort of frame of mind one might wish to encourage – although perhaps there are exceptions.

    *

    In any case, it would seem that if one wants people who one disagrees with to be rational, one should go about it without making them feel attacked. In fact, this would seem to be the rational approach, more along the lines of Martin Luther King than Malcolm X, I suppose.

    John Fen wrote:

    The PR trick is that confrontation can’t be the only strategy employed. You have to have a little “good cop/bad cop” going on — with radical, in-your-face, rude activism kicking people in the brains while the more “reasonable, moderate” activists are there to comfort the shaken while reinforcing the basic message.

    Well, that would would certainly seem applicable in the case of Malcolm and Martin. Not sure how well it maps onto this, however.

  23. #23 Richard
    April 21, 2007

    Up here in Canada a group of Mohawks is blocking a major rail line between Toronto and Montreal as a protest over a land dispute. A reporter asked a Mohawk protester why they were taking this action and he said it’s because the whites NEVER listen otherwise. I’m afraid he’s absolutely right.

  24. #24 Daniel Martin
    April 21, 2007

    You know, speaking (tangentially) of framing, I wonder if the term “Godless” that you have adopted is less effective than a simple variant: Godfree.

    After all, when they set up a zone around a school from which people wish to banish certain drugs, they call it a “drug free zone”, not a “drugless zone”. Similarly, my undergraduate school had certain “substance free” floors from which tobacco and alcohol were banned. Likewise, compare the connotations of the word “childless” with the name of the livejournal community for adults intentionally without offspring: “childfree”.

    The pattern here is that when in English (at least American English) one wishes to express that some undesireable feature is not present, one uses the word “free”. When one does not wish to convey the connotation that the thing that isn’t there is intrinsically unpleasant, one uses “less”: for example, sellers of “smokeless tobacco” presumably have less against tobacco smoke than those seeking to establish “smoke free environments”.

    I can see the argument of reclaiming a term used as a perjorative, but I’m not sure if in trying to reclaim “Godless” you’re fighting not only established prejudices but connotations of word particles deeply embedded in the English language.

  25. #25 Colugo
    April 21, 2007

    PZ: “When we compare atheists to feminists, the labor movement, gays, or civil rights, we are not saying these are identical”

    Of course not.

    “in this case, it is to a narrower similarity”

    Right.

    The question is, which similarities – and which dissimilarities – are most relevant? In the case of both women’s suffrage and atheism, is it just a matter of contrasting styles or is it also about contrasting goals?

    earlier: “these faint-hearted enablers of superstition”

    Reconciliationists like Mel Konner, Scott Atran, Michael Ruse et al. are accommodationists – while they understand the problems of religious fundamentalism, they foresee coexistence between theists and nonbelievers rather than one side triumphing and the other disappearing (in the peaceful battle of ideas). Similarly, suffragettes foresaw mutually respectful coexistence between men and women.

    In this analogy it is really the “appeaser” atheists who are closer to the suffragettes, while the New Atheists are more like militant separatists who want to reproduce via parthenogenesis (ex. Mary Daly).

    In both cases – New Atheists and pro-parthenogenesis separatists – they are wholly lawful, peaceful, and not interested in infringing on the rights of others, and they certainly have some legitimate grievances. But their goals are simply not the same as their more moderate counterparts.

  26. #26 Colugo
    April 21, 2007

    Dan: “By definition, science cannot falsify God, the soul and the afterlife, because all three are axiomatically non-falsifiable claims. Science doesn’t claim that the supernatural doesn’t exist”

    That is my position as well. That is the traditional atheist/freethinker position. That is why I believe that methodological naturalism is crucial to science, metaphysical naturalism is not – and the existence or nonexistence of God is a philosophical question, not a scientific one. (Philosophically, I accept both atheism and metaphysical naturalism.) As I wrote, this position distinguishes traditional philosophical atheism from New Atheism.

    Victor Stenger: “[T]he supernatural hypothesis of God is testable, verifiable, and falsifiable by the established methods of science.”
    http://www.colorado.edu/philosophy/vstenger/Godless/FlynnGodRvw.htm

    Not all New Atheists would use the term “falsified” in regard to God. They might say “disproved,” “impossible,” or some other term. What is important is that they claim that science itself – not just a particular philosophical perspective – has shown that God does not exist.

  27. #27 Thought Provoker
    April 21, 2007

    Before I launch into some perfunctory cerebral points let me just say…

    RIGHT ON! ;)

    I apologize if this repeats what others have said, but the comments are coming so fast I will never be able to read them (infinite regression).

    While it may be rude to follow your convictions and otherwise say what you mean and mean what you say, IT IS ETHICAL.

    It is interesting how religious types tend to call themselves “moral” and atheists call themselves “ethical”. Personally, I think the differences between these two words have gone beyond merely connotative. By in large, I find atheist significantly more ethical than those that would call themselves religious. Ironically, it isn’t the atheist that thinks it can be moral/ethical to lie after swearing an oath to God not to.

  28. #28 MAJeff
    April 21, 2007

    I think the moral of this is that atheists will start to gain recognition for their cause when they do something useful.

    Guess I should quit teaching and start looking for something useful to do.

  29. #29 Coathangrrr
    April 21, 2007

    I’m wondering why you bring up PETA colugo? Have you looked at what they accomplished or did you just assume that they haven’t accomplished anything because you don’t like them?

    More over, how much has animal rights activism accomplished in the years that PETA has been around that has been indirectly tied to the fact that there is an organization like them, and more militant groups to boot.

  30. #30 Sastra
    April 21, 2007

    As several here have pointed out, the “extremism” of the New Atheism is not really in how we put out our message. It’s in the message itself: “God” is classified as a hypothesis, and taken apart and examined, just like any other claim. Do we have evidence of disembodied minds? Can intelligence come out of a mindless process? Can complexity come from simplicity? Is God really a “simple” thing because theologians say it is? How similar is belief in God to belief in superstitions and the paranormal — are the same processes at work, and could they have evolved?

    When it began to look as if science wasn’t going to confirm the existence of souls, angels, and God after all, a truce was reached between intelligent theists and intelligent nontheists: God is outside of science. Period. It deals with the “spiritual” world, and science deals with the natural one. Religion is nothing like the paranormal; spirituality is nothing like superstition. True religion is vague, unspecific, and therefore untestable. Agree with this, and we will keep our peanut butter out of your chocolate, and you will keep your chocolate out of our peanut butter. And people can eat them both, as long as they don’t mix them.

    New Atheists break this truce, because the truce is based on two false premises: that God is really truly a totally vague, non-scientific sort of claim; and that religionists wouldn’t continue to keep jumping up and down, frantically trying to mesh God with science in their favor, while ridiculing atheism as irrational and immoral.

    “No more free ride.” — Vic Stenger

  31. #31 Timothy Chase
    April 21, 2007

    PZ wrote (in #71 I believe in response to #67 where I mentioned how I thought that a reflexively reciting a litany of complaints any time the subject of religion is brought up might be a back idea):

    No, it’s a good idea.

    You don’t understand. The goal isn’t to be able to coexist with other members of society by being unobtrusive and hiding our beliefs. It’s to be known by those beliefs; just like modern Lutherans don’t freak out and suspect the other guy is grinding baby’s bones in the shed behind the house when they find out he’s Catholic, we should want everyone to think simply, “Huh, OK, he’s one of those guys who doesn’t go to church and doesn’t believe in my god” when they meet an atheist, and they shouldn’t even mentally qualify it with “I hope my daughter never marries one of them.” That takes a certain amount of persistent dunning into people’s heads right now.

    I wouldn’t ask you to hide the fact that you don’t believe in a god. I let people know that I am not Christian or even a personal – although I don’t let that descend into some sort of indescriminant attack upon Christianity or theism in general. When you mention the Lutheran who might be afraid that Catholics grind up the bones of babies, obviously this is a form of bigotry which would be worth opposing. Obviously it should be opposed when directed against atheists. But if a Catholic responded to Lutherans by claiming that all Lutherans were in league with the devil, that might also be problematic.

    There have been times when I have mentioned that I was not a Christian that people have been a little taken aback by it. For example, the minister when I delivered an eulegy for my physics teacher (I had mentioned “living on through others” rather than the “afterlife” which made him ask), or when I mentioned it in passing to my grandmother in front of her friend. But it isn’t a big deal for me, and it shouldn’t be for them. It is just part of that special, wonderous package which is me – including that profound sense of humility.

    In any case, obviously with you, I can see that you have a great deal going on in you life. You have the science, the discoveries, the students, the achievements. But for some of those who regard themselves as atheists, I sometimes get the sense that they define themselves as atheists, that this is what they regard as what is essential about themselves. Not what they are for, but what they are against. One gets the sense that if religion were to suddenly disappear the next day, their lives would be drained of all passion and become entirely meaningless because there would be nothing left for them to oppose.

    PZ wrote:

    The faction that some call “appeasers” seem to be more interested in coexistence by stealth; some of us would rather coexist as loud, equal, and unashamed members of the culture, instead of being the quiet little mice hiding in the walls.

    Well, I would probably be what most “new atheists” would regard as an appeaser – even though I have stated that you should let people know that you are not religious – to help them get beyond that sort of bigotry. But what a person believes is ultimately a decision for that person alone. If you try to push them into giving up their religious beliefs, they are likely to move in the opposite direction.

    People are funny that way.

    To be perfectly honest, I worry a bit that, given how emotional this subject is, by participating in this discussion, I might even encourage people those who I argue with into moving in the opposite direction from what I intend – as a similar form of complementary schismogenesis. Sometimes life and people seem way too complicated. Then again, there are no doubt times that I just worry too easily.

  32. #32 CalGeorge
    April 21, 2007

    Onegoodmove has a nice quotation from the new Hitchens book:

    There still remain four irreducible objections to religious faith: that it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum, of solipsism, that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and that it is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking… I had already discovered these four objections (as well as noticed the more vulgar and obvious fact that religion is used by those in temporal charge to invest themselves with authority) before my boyish voice had broken… And here is the point, about myself and my co-thinkers. Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, openmindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake.

    http://onegoodmove.org/1gm/1gmarchive/2007/04/god_is_not_grea.html

    Sounds good to me. The New Atheism is thriving!

  33. #33 Nathan Parker
    April 21, 2007

    adamsj wrote:

    I understand, PZ, why you get so frustrated with the frame of framing, and I won’t say I don’t sometimes agree with you, but I also think it’d be money well-spent for science organizations to hire PR people–and listen to them.

    Agree 100%.

  34. #34 Torbjörn Larsson
    April 21, 2007

    “The whole tone of Church teaching in regard to women is, to the last degree, contemptuous and degrading.”

    Remarkable how well other activists ‘rude’ commentaries can be adapted to New Atheist situation:

    The whole tone of Church teaching in regard to atheists is, to the last degree, contemptuous and degrading.

    We can probably learn a lot from others successes. Feminists, slaves, gays, ethnic minorities, and more.

    And perhaps shame some moderates to make a choice in the process:

    Feminism in UK, early 20th century:

    “Men their rights and nothing more; women their rights and nothing less.”

    Atheism in US, early 21st century:

    Religious their rights and nothing more; atheists their rights and nothing less.

  35. #35 Colugo
    April 21, 2007

    Torbjörn Larsson: “Religious their rights and nothing more; atheists their rights and nothing less.”

    Of course. But that is not what defines New Atheism. Sastra (#72) understands what makes New Atheism distinct. (Or at least part of what makes it distinct; castigating inadequate allies and hyperbolic zero-sum rhetoric are other features.)

    Clearly, not all of us are talking about the same thing when we use the term “New Atheism.”

  36. #36 Torbjörn Larsson
    April 21, 2007

    But that is not what defines New Atheism.

    Of course. Perhaps we can find quotes that cover the “New” aspect as well; I went for easy pickings.

    In a sense these “Old” aspects are a stronger case because they are old and less controversial, yet still unsatisfied in some nations like US. But Dawkins, and Stenger that Sastra references, shows us that going for the jugular may be more successful. (With steak knifes, perhaps.) So that is what we should prioritize.

  37. #37 Torbjörn Larsson
    April 21, 2007

    But that is not what defines New Atheism.

    Of course. Perhaps we can find quotes that cover the “New” aspect as well; I went for easy pickings.

    In a sense these “Old” aspects are a stronger case because they are old and less controversial, yet still unsatisfied in some nations like US. But Dawkins, and Stenger that Sastra references, shows us that going for the jugular may be more successful. (With steak knifes, perhaps.) So that is what we should prioritize.

  38. #38 Colugo
    April 22, 2007

    There are actually several ongoing controversies, not one:

    1) tactics

    The “framing” thing and M&N’s “good cop” fly-swats at Dawkins vs. Stonewall-esque loud n’ proud expressions of atheism (Note: M&N are talking about science policy advocacy, while PZ is talking about atheism advocacy.)

    2) social goals

    Erasmussimo: “But is our goal to establish our place in society or to attack theism?”

    3) scientific claims

    NOMA vs. Stenger’s falsification

  39. #39 Trinifar
    April 22, 2007

    The comment I started to write turned into a blog post. Besides, I felt obligated to produce a drawing of a zebrafish at the pharyngula stage.

  40. #40 Colugo
    April 22, 2007

    Torbjörn Larsson: “Perhaps we can find quotes that cover the “New” aspect as well; I went for easy pickings.”

    Michel Onfray, Atheist Manifesto: “We can no longer tolerate neutrality and benevolence.”
    http://tinyurl.com/ywlacx

    Victor Stenger, God: The Failed Hypothesis: “The hypothesis of God is not confirmed by the data. Indeed that hypothesis is falsified by the data.”
    http://tinyurl.com/3bvmva

    Sam Harris: “It is time that scientists and other public intellectuals observed that the contest between faith and reason is zero-sum.”
    http://tinyurl.com/r2p5a

    Geoffrey Miller: “A great ideological war is raging between the Godless — people like me, who trust life — and the Gutless — the talking heads of the extreme, religious right…”
    http://www.edge.org/q2007/q07_4.html#miller

    Richard Dawkins, Edge.org
    “The Neville Chamberlain ‘appeasement’ school focuses on the battle for evolution. Consequently, its members identify fundamentalism as the enemy, and they bend over backwards to appease ‘moderate’ or ‘sensible’ religion … Scientists of the Winston Churchill school, by contrast, see the fight for evolution as only one battle in a larger war: a looming war between supernaturalism on the one side and rationality on the other.”
    http://tinyurl.com/2ass62

  41. #41 Justin Moretti
    April 22, 2007

    No, PZ; you’re not fighting for a basic right worth screaming and committing arson for, and neither is Dawkins. There are plenty of quietly religious people out there who want nothing to do with the religious and pseudoscientific bullshit behaviour that you so despise, and who are really disturbed that the cultural meme on which they have constructed their morals and ethics is being torn apart and disparaged.

    Those who indulge in antiscientific religiosity are often doing it for reasons completely unconnected to any sort of God. Religiosity is not automatically equivalent to irrationality, even though the two sometimes go together; nor are the irrational always religious.

    The problem is an abandonment of common sense; not the maintenance of attachment to any officially sanctioned form of spirituality. If more people had common sense, the idiot religiosity would disappear.

  42. #42 David Livesay
    April 22, 2007

    Were the women saying that men were stupid? Were they portraying them as rubes and simpletons?

    As a matter of fact, they were. By denying the “natural superiority of men,” the suffragists were doing two things that men of their day found intensely insulting. First of all, they were denying something that virtually every man at that time knew to be true. They were flying in the face of common sense. Clearly the implication of telling someone that what they believe is false is going to be perceived as an insult to their intelligence. Second, they were debasing men by advocating equality with them. If you believe women to be inferior, you’re not going to find that comparison very flattering. It is literally the same as calling them stupid, not to mention weak, sinful and licentious.

    Only by ignoring how drastically those beliefs and attitudes have changed is it possible to overlook the consequences of those beliefs in their time. Men really did believe that women were naturally inferior to men in every way–physically, mentally, morally and spiritually. J.J. Ramsey seems to think they were merely disadvantaged socially and politically. This is a complete misunderstanding of the situation.

  43. #43 JasonN
    April 22, 2007

    Has anybody else noticed that feminism occasionally goes overboard, extending beyond the struggle for equal rights for women and into the realm of illogical, vindictive, cult-like hatred of men?

    Feminism has also spawned a number of pseudo-intellectual hacks hawking silly epistemologies like “feminist postmodernism” which argue that the method and findings of science are mere cultural constructs with no basis in external reality. Such people deserve no more respect than the staff of the Discovery Institute.

    Your unbridled support for “rude” feminism is unnerving in light of these extremes to which it is sometimes taken. Feminism at its best has been the zealous pursuit of a just cause, but you should draw some distinction to prevent association with those who irrationally pursue radical causes.

  44. #44 CalGeorge
    April 22, 2007

    I’m not saying most or even much of feminism is like this. I’m just saying that when PZ holds feminism up as an example of a degree of zealotry to which atheists should inspire, he should bear in mind that some have taken it way too far.

    Men need to shut up about feminism. Women have a hard enough time without having their feminisms sliced and diced.

    If I had to worry about some sleazeball exposing himself or harrassing me, or couldn’t go to certain areas where I live by myself, or had to cross the street at times to avoid comments, or got judged way too much on my looks, or couldn’t advance beyond a certain point in the work place, or got dissed by the President of Harvard, or had inadequate representation in government, or saw half the populations of most third world countries being treated like crap, I’d hope to see the various feminisms exploding with ideas on how to confront and fix these problems.

  45. #45 Chet
    April 22, 2007

    Dan:

    The problem with this argument is that by taking your missing step, you’re conceding the entire argument.

    Well, I think that’s a mistaken way to look at it. If theists want to bring their concept into the discussion about what is real, we’re entitled to take a long hard look at it and determine if, as defined, it’s consistent with observation.

    But we have to know what’s being talked about before we can do that. And I don’t see that allowing theists to define the word “God” in advance of the discussion is something to be afraid of.

    It’s only when theists and “weak” atheists demand that the word “God” be treated as a definition-less cypher that there’s room to play the moving goalposts game. I honestly see this debate in starkly opposite terms as you. The more we allow theists to “load” the word “God” with different putative qualities, actions, etc., the more they’re giving us to disprove.

    When literally everything is proof positive of your religious claim — when any given piece of ostensibly contrary evidence can be hand-waved away without scratching the surface of the claim

    You only have room to do that when the word “God” is held to be an empty utterance. The instant that theists assert that the word actually means something, the rest of us have a handle on the concept we can use to falsify it.

    And the sophisticated theists know that. Look, we see this very debate happen here. Theists use the “empty-utterance two-step” to criticize Dawkins. “Oh, he may have refuted their God over at that fundie church, but the God I believe in is something very different, although I’m not for an instant going to consider telling you what it is, actually. Yeah – try disproving a God I haven’t even defined, suckas!”

  46. #46 xebecs
    April 22, 2007

    Has anybody else noticed that feminism occasionally goes overboard, extending beyond the struggle for equal rights for women and into the realm of illogical, vindictive, cult-like hatred of men?

    Has anyone else noticed that people like JasonN make assertions without supporting evidence or even an example of what he’s talking about?

    Almost every woman I’ve ever known harbors plenty of anger towards men, and it’s usually quite justifiable. The mere fact that we also like plenty of individual men changes nothing. The fact that some of us are feminists changes nothing.

  47. #47 Dan
    April 22, 2007

    Chet:

    The problem with this argument is that by taking your missing step, you’re conceding the entire argument.

    Well, I think that’s a mistaken way to look at it. If theists want to bring their concept into the discussion about what is real, we’re entitled to take a long hard look at it and determine if, as defined, it’s consistent with observation.

    But we have to know what’s being talked about before we can do that. And I don’t see that allowing theists to define the word “God” in advance of the discussion is something to be afraid of.

    So you don’t think that allowing your opponent to hold all the cards puts you in a weak rhetorical position? Maybe you should tell me why we should be forced to pay attention to someone who wants to argue about what color a unicorn’s hair is.

    It’s only when theists and “weak” atheists demand that the word “God” be treated as a definition-less cypher that there’s room to play the moving goalposts game. I honestly see this debate in starkly opposite terms as you. The more we allow theists to “load” the word “God” with different putative qualities, actions, etc., the more they’re giving us to disprove.

    Except that like the color of a unicorn’s hair, not a single shred of it is even remotely relevant until you concede the primary question of existence. Because what’s the point in talking about the specific attributes of something you can’t even demonstrate exists in the first place?

    When literally everything is proof positive of your religious claim — when any given piece of ostensibly contrary evidence can be hand-waved away without scratching the surface of the claim

    You only have room to do that when the word “God” is held to be an empty utterance. The instant that theists assert that the word actually means something, the rest of us have a handle on the concept we can use to falsify it.

    You’re completely missing the point. Whether or not you have a handle on the concept means absolutely nothing whatsoever to theists, since they’re just going to ignore you, anyway. That’s the point. To theists, “God” is an empty utterance, one that can be filled with whatever you feel like filling it with. In fact, theism requires that “God” be an empty utterance capable of being filled with whatever’s convenient at the moment. It has no power, otherwise.

    And the sophisticated theists know that. Look, we see this very debate happen here. Theists use the “empty-utterance two-step” to criticize Dawkins. “Oh, he may have refuted their God over at that fundie church, but the God I believe in is something very different, although I’m not for an instant going to consider telling you what it is, actually. Yeah – try disproving a God I haven’t even defined, suckas!”

    Which part of that does not qualify as “hand-waving” and “moving the goalposts”? That’s the whole damn point, Chet. You want specific attributes, but what you obviously don’t understand that the specific attributes you’re asking for are only being offered as a smokescreen to distract you from the real problem of theology: the fundamental concept of the supernatural is logically broken from the get-go.

    By asking for specific attributes, you must have conceded the general question of existence. Because if you haven’t, specifics aren’t relevant. Imaginary baseball players don’t have batting averages.

  48. #48 JasonN
    April 22, 2007

    Oh, and if you think it’s fair to generalize feminists as wanting to exterminate half the population, is it also fair to avoid atheism because you might some kook in an asylum somewhere who thinks it’s OK to annihilate 90% of Americans?

    I was trying to be careful not to generalize, and to clearly target my comments at the militant extremists.

    However, I think those extremists do include more than a few kooks in an asylum. Some have tenure and speaking engagements. (Although I believe the one I cited for overtly calling for exterminating mankind is in prison for trying to kick off that initiative personally.) They are still a very small minority of the feminist movement, but I don’t think they’re completely marginalized either. There are whole organizations and publications for “separatist feminists,” for example.

    When you wrote praise for the ferocity and outrage of the feminist movement, I instantly thought of the most ferocious and outrageous words I’ve read from feminists, and they aren’t pretty. In retrospect it’s fairly clear in your article that you’re referring back to what you wrote about suffrage, which of course is fine. I just thought it worth pointing out that feminism isn’t the cleanest example of a movement with admirable ferocity, because its most ferocious words have come from reprehensible extremists.

    Has anyone else noticed that people like JasonN make assertions without supporting evidence or even an example of what he’s talking about?

    Read my second post above… the one in which I quote examples of what I’m talking about.

  49. #49 Jack
    April 22, 2007

    Superb article, PZ!

    As I previously posted elsewhere, in borrowing the framework of a quote by the late Sen. Barry Goldwater: “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of REASON is no vice. Let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of SECULARISM is no virtue.”

    Oh BTW, Fyfe is annoyingly full of hot air.

  50. #50 Bronze Dog
    April 23, 2007

    And atheists can’t join the Boy Scouts, although they can join the Girl Scouts, interestingly enough.

    Well, that makes me feel less guilty for buying all those Peanut Butter Patties

  51. #51 Alonzo Fyfe
    April 23, 2007

    Dave Wisker: What amuses me is how some people think that by comparing the militant tactics of atheists, suffragettes and civil rights leaders, Moran and Myers are trying to equate the social importance of their cause with that of suffrage and civil rights. Sigh.

    Come, now. The posting assumes equal social importance and debates tactics. Claiming otherwise is just willful blindness.

  52. #52 Dave Wisker
    April 23, 2007

    That’s not the half of it. Chris at Mixing Memory argues that if you do want to compare the effectiveness of the tactics, and not the goals, you must agree with the tactics of Stalin. Sigh^2.

    I saw that masterpiece of logic, yes.

  53. #53 Chuck
    April 23, 2007

    Thank you for clarifying, towards the end, that the position of atheists in early 21st century America is nothing like the position of disenfranchized women. The fact is that most Americans are passively, nominally Christian and ignorantly mistrust atheists, and would never vote for an openly atheist politician, but at least atheists can vote and openly advocate secular causes without too much risk of violence.

  54. #54 RavenT
    April 23, 2007

    To go off on a different tack, does this mean that we should start calling PZ “Captain Tightpants”?

    Does anyone have an icepick I can borrow? I need to put out my mind’s eye…

  55. #55 Chet
    April 23, 2007

    It’s certainly an unmatched record.

    …snap!

  56. #56 bernarda
    April 24, 2007

    One of my favorite 19th century feminists is Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president. For as strange as it may seem, even though women couldn’t vote, they could become president.

    A good biography is Lois Underhill’s “The Woman Who Ran for President”.

    Besides running for president, she was the first woman stock broker, the first to testify before congress, a free-love advocate, and a socialist. Not bad.

  57. #57 bernarda
    April 24, 2007

    I forgot to add, that Thomas Nast cartooned her as satan!

    What more reference do you need?

    http://www.theamericanview.com/index.php?id=302

    And does this sound familiar?

    “Near the end of the 1872 presidential campaign, Woodhull would publish allegations that the nation’s most prominent and respected clergyman, Henry Ward Beecher, had been having an affair with the wife of Woodhull’s biographer, Theodore Tilton. In Woodhull’s estimation, Beecher was hypocritically preaching one tenet while living by another, even though his adultery was a far cry from Free Love. A subsequent trial over the case, which ended with a hung jury, became a sensational news story.”

  58. #58 RavenT
    May 9, 2007

    PZ, I thought of you and this post when I read this excerpt tonight. I was so engrossed in the book that I missed getting off at my bus stop and had to walk back :).

    The excerpt is from The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, which I picked up on impulse a couple of weeks ago while visiting the sun bears (and some people) in Chicago. It’s a historical treatment of the planning and execution of the Chicago World’s Fair, paralleled with the story of the nearby serial killer.

    Anyway, this is the excerpt:

    One day as the Board of Lady Directors debated whether to support or oppose opening the fair on Sunday, an angry male Sabbatarian confronted Susan B. Anthony in the hall of the Woman’s Building to challenge her contention that the fair should remain open. (Anthony was not a lady manager and therefore despite her national stature could not participate in the board’s meeting.) Deploying the most shocking analogy he could muster, the clergyman asked Anthony if she’d prefer having a son of hers attend Buffalo Bill’s show on Sunday instead of church.

    Yes, she replied, “he would learn far more. . . .”

    To the pious this exchange confirmed the fundamental wickedness of Anthony’s suffragist movement. When [Buffalo Bill] Cody learned of it, he was tickled, so much so that he immediately sent Anthony a thank-you note and invited her to attend his show. He offered her a box at any performance she chose.

    That’s the godless part that made me laugh and remember this post, not to mention miss my stop. But you might also like to hear what happened afterward. [He entered on horseback, galloped toward where she was sitting, and bowed until his head nearly touched the horn of his saddle. She stood, returned the bow, and waved her handkerchief at him.]

    The significance of the moment escaped no one. Here was one of the greatest heroes of America’s past saluting one of the foremost heroes of its future. The encounter brought the audience to its feet in a thunder of applause and cheers. (pp. 285-6)

    (OT: So far, I’m liking the rest of the book as much as I liked this story, and would recommend it to anyone interested in detailed historical stories [as well as true crime stories, a guilty pleasure]. On our family’s Daphne-the-polydactyl-cat approval scale, I give it 4 thumbs up!)

  59. #59 agnostic skeptic
    August 28, 2007

    the difference that I see is that women wanted the right to vote for themselves, but they never said anything about taking the rights of men to vote away. same when Martin Luther King Jr. fought for the rights of African Americans-he didn’t do it by saying white people should be mistreated or disparaging them. He encouraged people to look beyond race. While most atheists I’ve met are fine with the religious having their rights (real rights not special rights) as long as they get theirs, there seems to be a growing movement of militant anti-theists that want to destroy all forms of religion, take away people’s rights, and ridicule anyone who even believes in any sort of god (whether they are trying to push that on people or not). They have a fit if someone even mentions the word god and it’s just so ridiculous. As an agnostic, I find these types just as bad as religious fundies. The majority of atheists don’t fall into this, but I don’t see a lot of them telling these guys to quite it either, and when they do, they get ridculued like Greg Epstein (yet there’s plenty of talk about religious “moderates” keeping too quiet). Christopher Hitchens and the Rational Response Squad are 2 examples. Yet many people embrace these as “necessary”. I actually heard Brian Sapient of RRS tell an atheist who didn’t agree with him that he wasn’t “atheist enough”? What the hell? That sounds just like religious fundamentalism to me-the whole you’re either with us or against us. Epstien is allowed his opinion, and whether you like it not, there are plenty of humanists and other non-religious who DO NOT identify with new atheistm and you’re just going to have to live with it. But if you want to alleniate them, keep doing what you’re doing, b/c right now liberal religous are being nicer to them than you are. I guess if someone isn’t your type of non-believer, they don’t count. Sounds an awful lot like religion to me.

    Sam Harris makes some good points, but his views on torture are frightening. So are his views that if a senator mentions “God” he should be censured and removed from office. Umm, hello, freedom of speech? I don’t think he’d like it if an atheist were removed from office for being an atheist. He seems to advocate a double standard-if someone believes in god let’s treat them like an idiot, even if they are a decent person who didn’t hurt anyone. Well, having several friends who do believe in god (but aren’t that religious) I’d be the first to fight against any attempt to take away their rights or to pressure them to say they don’t believe in god, and I certainly wouldn’t make fun of them for it. The two can peacfully coexist-I’ve been doing it for years. Both sides are getting ridiculous. Dawkins is pretty good, he has actually talked with decent religious like the Bishop of Oxford.

    As the atheist “movement” grows, there will be more disagreement and move variablity-it happens with every group. The xtians once started out as a minority too. So if I were you, I’d stop giving a special pass to people like RRS, and stop criticizing humanists b/c they aren’t “atheist enough”-or you’re going to become just as bad as what you claim to be against. On the other hand, I’m probably going to be dismissed as another stupid agnostic. Whatever. Just know that you are alienating plenty of people like me, and I have news for you-there are PLENTY of us.

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