People Are the Problem and They Pretty Much Always Will Be

Today PZ Myers ruminates about the problems he has with the atheist movement here in the US, much of which, from my point of view, boils down to “the problem is that there are people in it.”

Which, I will hastily note, is not me snarking. People are hierarchical, status-sensitive and in many ways fundamentally conservative creatures. We crave structure, hate disruption and are wary of outsiders and change. And some people are just plain rotten people, and those people are widely distributed. I’m not entirely sure why the atheist movement (and/or the various public examples of it) would be at all different. And given the larger society in which the atheist movement in the US exists, it’s not entirely surprising that things play out as Myers notes:

Too many atheists turn out to be just as shallow as the fervent faithful I rail against. Too many see atheism as another useless difference they can use to excuse discrimination against others they are already prejudiced against. I used to have this illusion that an atheist society would be more tolerant, that under it government and education would be secular, but the churches would still exist, if people wanted to attend them — a sort of Scandinavian ideal. But no, what I’m fast learning is that tolerance isn’t automatically a property of abandoning the false tribe of religion, but is more a reflection of the greater culture it is embedded in. Atheists can still hold a “kill the wogs” mentality while babbling about the wonders of science; people who regard women as servile appliances for their gratification don’t seem to become suddenly enlightened once the scales of faith fall from their eyes.

Shorter, reductive version: Atheists are as perfectly capable of being complete assholes as anyone else; becoming an atheist will not, in itself, keep one from being a complete asshole. This isn’t surprising; what would be surprising, in fact, is if it did. Because that would be a first, in the history of all humans and all of their congregations, regardless of how, and around what, these congregations formed.

This is why, incidentally, the phrase “we’re supposed to be better than that,” drives me crazy, when it’s used as a way to argue against a group of people laying down certain official guidelines in how to deal with each other, most recently in dealing with harassment issues. Sure, okay, you’re supposed to be better than that, but you know what? You’re not, because you’re all human. Having one thing in common, whether it be a belief or enthusiasm or hobby or political mission, does not make you immune, individually or as a class, to all the other ridiculous social baggage humans carry with them all the time. The belief that it does or should, among other things, creates within any assemblage the space for assholes to thrive and prey on other people.

I am agnostic of an atheistic sort (I don’t believe based on the scientific evidence that the universe needed a creator but as a technicality I’m aware I can neither prove nor disprove that one existed), and quite a lot of my friends are also agnostic or atheist. But they are not my friends because they are agnostic or atheist, nor are they better people because they are agnostic or atheist. They are people who are good and are atheist/agnostic. In some cases becoming atheist/agnostic helped them to become good people, by helping them to abandon ideologies that led them to treat people poorly. In other cases, they were good people, who also came to believe the universe didn’t need a god in it to exist.

Conversely, there are people who believe the same things I do, with regard to the existence of god, who I judge to be absolute shitcanoes. Sometimes they were already shitcanoes, and sometimes they have decided their atheist/agnostic beliefs allow them — or even demand them — to be absolute shitcanoes to others. They’re terrible people and I want nothing to do with them. I’m okay with calling them out for being terrible people.

You don’t get credit with me simply for believing something I believe. You get credit for how you deal with other human beings.

I think internalizing the fact that no opinion/belief/enthusiasm inoculates either you or anyone else from the baser aspects of the human condition, or the larger social milieu in which we all exist, is probably a very smart thing to do. It helps manage the disappointment when the cool new group you find yourself with is eventually revealed to be full of flawed and fallible human beings, and it helps to free you from the initial desire to rationalize shitty behavior within a group merely for the sake of identity politics. And on the rare occasions when everyone in the group is actually good and decent, it allows you to appreciate just how nice that really is.

192 thoughts on “People Are the Problem and They Pretty Much Always Will Be

  1. Notes:

    1. If you’re the sort of person who will note that you can take “Atheist/Agnostic” out of the above piece and replace it with any other sort of ideological/religious/social/etc identifier, please be aware that a) yes, and b) it’s covered in the entry, so you can save the typing, you’re not making any great insight. Also, if you are the person who is about to write “So there were good Nazis?” please jump off a building, Mr. Argue to Argue.

    2. Me describing my particular brand of agnosticism should not be an invitation to you to try to explain to me that no, I’m actually another type of agnostic/atheist. This happens more often than you might think, and aside from being derailing, I also find it more than mildly obnoxious that you think you know better than I do what I believe and the best way to describe it. So please don’t.

    3. This should not be a thread in which atheism v. religion is a huge component, likewise a discussion about the various flaws of atheism as a general philosophy (specifically, anyone stupid enough to try the “how can you be moral without a god” line of things will get Malleted for being obvious, sad and boring).

    4. A discussion of the various social issues/problems within the US atheist movement is fair game, but do try to keep it tied into the actual topic at hand and please don’t use it as a stalking horse to slide into the points already mentioned as off-topic in point three.

    5. And generally, as ever, be polite with each other. Thanks.

  2. I have a solution – let’s kill all the people!!!

    Might be a bit extreme but it would work.

    People are people so why should it be you and I should get along so awfully

    Nicely written piece, there seems to be more reductionism into boxes here in the US than in the UK – Republicans=asses, Democrats=Librul commie scum, atheists – why do you hate Amerika?

    People can be abominable regardless of their personal beliefs, unfortunately.

  3. This is an issue fraught with difficulty. Yes, people are people, and being in a cool group doesn’t really make you personally cool except in high school. But as a society we don’t have a very good consensus on the definition of a jerk. One man’s heroic white knight is another woman’s condescending twit. So we end up arguing about usage rather than the intent behind words. Hopefully the emotional and intellectual turmoil we are going through as a society (increasingly global) will lead us to a good definition of what a good person is, a definition that will allow everyone and everything to flourish

  4. I’m an atheist, and I’ll agree that there are plenty of rotten atheists out there. I think the percentage of rotten people is lower than in the general population, but I have nothing to back that up. I think the ratio is best among humanists. Many religious people regard “humanist” as a bad word, but if you believe people deserve a baseline level of kindness and respect due to their humanity, then you’re on your way to being a nice person. You can do this whether you’re religious or not.

  5. “You don’t get credit with me simply for believing something I believe. You get credit for how you deal with other human beings.”

    I believe this also. As you noted, the phrase “atheist/agnostic” absolutely could be replaced with another group/religion and this article would apply equally well. I as a Christian have run into many others who share my beliefs that believe that just “being a Christian” is a good reason to trust someone, to support someone, and even a good reason to give someone a job. Someone who shares my beliefs DOES NOT equal someone who automatically deserves my trust and especially does not equal someone who deserves favoritism (’cause favoritism isn’t cool period).

    In any group, the more humility, the better. Nothing more obnoxious than a person or a group of people who aren’t willing to admit they might ever be wrong.

  6. My father like to say that the proportion of assholes is roughly constant. This is why, he says, he prefers to live where there are fewer people around. You run into fewer assholes that way.

  7. Your philosophy degree is showing. Thanks for a great read. Although of the agnostic/Christian persuasion (I believe, but can’t prove it one way or the other using the scientific method) and therefore a ‘live-and-let-live’ kind of human, I can feel the same gall against my co-religionists acting asshatly and the same warm fuzzy feeling when an atheist reveals him or herself to be a decent human being. The older I get, the more a label means nothing to me and the more character does.

  8. Many theists believe that humans are fundamentally flawed. Guess what, ditching the idea that there’s a reason that all humans are flawed doesn’t automatically make everyone perfect.

  9. “Having one thing in common, whether it be a belief or enthusiasm or hobby or political mission, does not make you immune, individually or as a class, to all the other ridiculous social baggage humans carry with that all the time. The belief that it does or should, among other things, creates the within any assemblage the space in which assholes thrive and prey on other people.”

    I find this to be so true. Also I find that the belief that groups confer immunity tends to foster a strong temptation to think or even oh dear, say incredibly stupid things like “I can’t be racist, I’m a feminist woman, I know all about oppression.” Oh dear, oh but yes, yes I absolutely can be a racist feminist woman and thinking that feminism inoculates me actually sets me up for more and better fail.

    Sadly, despite centuries of trying, there is still no tribe that auto-magically inoculates you against having to deal with assholes. Or becoming one yourself on occasion. However there are some tribes that do encourage you to engage in certain practices that might help in the quest not to become or be with assholes. Just, it doesn’t work so well to weed a garden once and think oh good, now I’m done. Still pulling pesky little thistles out of my brain every day.

  10. There was a time, long ago, when I would have been somewhat inclined to consider PZ to be one of those people whose approach to atheism had managed to recreate exactly those aspects of religious practice most objectionable to him, but that was indeed long ago. And even then, he was still pretty awesome in other areas. He’s a pretty cool guy.

  11. Agreed. When I went to law school I intentionally went to a very left wing law school. I grew up in small very closed minded town and I thought that at a liberal law school we would all get along and have a see eye to eye on things. Boy was I wrong. People, no matter how much they may agree on one thing, will find a way to divide themselves and piss on each other most of the time sadly. It was an annoying and disillusioning lesson, but a lesson nonetheless. Good people come from all walks of life, not from political or religious ideologies.

  12. I believe religion (or atheism) should be a tool to help you find a community that helps you be a better person. It should not be the only reason that you are a good person but can help people connect with others who encourage them to be good people.

    Unfortunately you also get doucheweasels banding together and using religion (or atheism) as a crutch for their own issues and bigotries. This is not unique to religious or atheist groups but they tend to be more polarising than your average book club.

    My religious beliefs are my own and I try to respect those of others, including those who do not believe – I merely ask for the same courtesy to be extended to me. I will not however tolerate people trying to use their beliefs or lack thereof to persecute or discriminate against others. Pretty sure there isn’t a single one of us who has it just right and if there is it’ll be by luck rather than knowledge.

  13. Also I think there might be a slightly higher ratio of doucheweasel amongst mainstream organised religions as there is a built in assumption that people who follow these religions are decent people which makes it easier for those who pay lip service in public to be awful in private

  14. Wendy Brown:

    I assure you there are enough assholes in just about every assemblage to make particular ratios less material. It doesn’t matter how big the turd in the punchbowl is, it still ruins the punch.

  15. Reminded of a discussion I had with a friend in high school. “My brother started smoking weed, and he turned into an asshole.” I searched for a tactful way to say it, and the best I could do was, “Well, how do you know he wouldn’t have been one anyway?”

  16. Plus there’s no philosophy so pure that somebody can’t use it to justify being a jerk. We humans are really good at justifying and rationalizing.

  17. …what I’m fast learning is that… [emphasis mine]

    o.O

    And then I remember that Meyers is an evolutionary biologist. That he came to this realization within a single epoch must seem blazingly fast to him, I guess.

  18. Lots of good points here. I’d like to add a little bit to what I said earlier about humanism. The humanist label, just like the atheist or Christian labels, has been misused to excuse bad behavior. I’ve been disappointed by several self-proclaimed humanist organizations who are more concerned with Christian bashing than with treating people well. Not very humanist at all. Once again it comes down to people.

    “To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem.” -Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

  19. Oh, I agree with what you said, about this being a human problem rather than just an atheist or religious problem. And my point is that if we get hung up on one answer (Be an atheist! It’ll make you perfect! Follow Jesus! He is the answer!) we forget the ten thousand other things you need to do to be a decent human being.

    I’m still a fanatical, mad-eyed atheist. I just think the way to better convince more people to jump on my lovely and tastefully decorated bandwagon is to be better in the ten thousand ways, not just the one.

  20. I’ve long been of a mind that people’s actions are rarely (if ever) due solely to their ideological beliefs. Instead, people think or do whatever they do, and then figure out a way to justify it in terms of their ideology, if necessary. If someone’s disposed to be nice to others, they’ll be nice regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof. Ditto people who are disposed to be assholes, helpers, trolls, teachers… and so on, and so on.

    (It occurs to me I’m referring here to adult people; teenagers often do act contrary to their nature while they try to figure out who they want to be, and children tend not to bother with justifications at all.)

  21. “There were plotters, there was no doubt about it. Some had been ordinary people who’d had enough. Some were young people with no money who objected to the fact that the world was run by old people who were rich. Some were in it to get girls. And some had been idiots as mad as Swing, with a view of the world just as rigid and unreal, who were on the side of what they called ‘the people’. Vimes had spent his life on the streets, and had met decent men and fools and people who’d steal a penny from a blind beggar and people who performed silent miracles or desperate crimes every day behind the grubby windows of little houses, but he’d never met The People.
    People on the side of The People always ended up dissapointed, in any case. They found that The People tended not to be grateful or appreciative or forward-thinking or obedient. The People tended to be small-minded and conservative and not very clever and were even distrustful of cleverness. And so the children of the revolution were faced with the age-old problem: it wasn’t that you had the wrong kind of government, which was obvious, but that you had the wrong kind of people.
    As soon as you saw people as things to be measured, they didn’t measure up. What would run through the streets soon enough wouldn’t be a revolution or a riot. It’d be people who were frightened and panicking. It was what happened when the machinery of city life faltered, the wheels stopped turning and all the little rules broke down. And when that happened, humans were worse than sheep. Sheep just ran; they didn’t try to bite the sheep next to them.”

    -Terry Pratchett, Night Watch

  22. “Not the Reddit Chris S.” — as a British person who has had death threats from supporters of the mainstream centre-left Labour party because of my membership of the mainstream centre-left Liberal Democrats, I can safely say that there is at least as much narcissism of small differences, reduction of people to labels, and dehumanising and demonising of opponents, over here as there is in the US. It just tends to be around different subjects.

  23. One piece of the belief-vs.-atheism debate that is applicable here, I believe, is the fact that where a great many atheists have come to their ethos as a result of religious assholes, I’ve yet to meet a Christian who ever claimed that abuse of power or demonstrated hypocrisy on the part of an atheist ever induced them to believe that the latter was a crock of shit.

    Following from that, I reckon that sense of entitlement is a driver, which is as it should be. We don’t need to kill the assholes, just convince them that no, they do not possess the right to be assholes on account of slights real and imagined. Memory serves to suggest that e.g. the Gospels spend a lot of time and energy on this point. …Not that anyone pays attention to those.

    @Chris S — the pigeonholing that you describe is noise generated by vocal minorities who yell at one another because they’re seeking outrage. Like anywhere else, us ’Murricans usually have more important things — like bills, children, and making sure the garden turns out this year — to worry about. On the other hand, if you want a master class in framing stories, just watch Fox News footage for an hour or two.

  24. I have know more than a few people who were self centered, judgemental and general assholes who once they discovered faith became much better people and surprisingly tolerant and loving.

  25. I consider myself spiritual rather than atheist. Meditation, being mindful and practicing the virtues have made a difference in my life. I don’t force my values onto anyone else and I don’t expect anyone else to do the same. I practice compassion and awareness and work on myself and also serve others.

  26. This is common in a lot of geeky subcultures as well (and atheist/humanist circles are often part of the geeky subculture). There’s a sense among geeks of all stripes that the “real world” is a cold unforgiving and prejudiced place, but here among our own kind we can find solace, support, and insulation. HA. Ha, I say! It’s a false sense of security. There are cliques and heirarchies and prejudices everywhere – the same old prejudices against people of color, against women and LGBTQ folks, and so on exist. They may manifest in different ways, they may manifest in different numbers and institutional outcomes, but they’re still there.

    Just because your subculture feels like a safe space from the cruel world, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a part of the cruel world. I think a lot of folks in various sub cultures including atheism are learning this.

  27. And just to answer any members of the Argue To Argue family on the question of “were there good Nazis?” Look up Oskar Schindler. I’d be willing to bet there were other Nazis that at some point said “whoa, I didn’t sign up for this.” Their stories are just not as well known.

  28. Love the Night Watch quote!

    @Ben Henick, if I’ve parsed your sentence correctly I believe you said that you haven’t ever met a Christian who saw an atheist demonstrate enough entitlement and hypocrisy to cause the Christian to decide that atheism was full of shit? Did I follow that correctly? If so, um… yeah that theory has some good sized holes in it.

  29. “…false tribe of religion”, that dude has to get those jabs in at all times huh? He had a good monologue going until he had to stoop to a middle school level and throw a jab out like that.

    Regardless of your position on religion, the very moment you make fun of someone, or a group of people, you immediately confine yourself to “arrogant asshole who can never see any other viewpoint that is not yours”. People will not listen to you and will take everything you say as someone who likes to degrade other people to make themselves feel better.

  30. “… the initial desire to minimize shitty behavior within a group merely for the sake of identity politics.”

    Minimizing shitty behavior is not an accomplishment to be sneered at, no matter what the motivation. If it can be maintained for a significant amount of time, all the better.

    (It’s odd that hmmmmm posted something similar just before me.)

  31. My online publications since 1972-1973 which detail my Theophysics, Theomathemagics, TheoChemistry, TheoEngineering, and General Relativity and Quantum Field Theory of Magic are far too well known for me to annotate herein. [*waves wand in 4-D Trajectory*]

  32. @Eric RoM, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.” Minimizing means explaining something away or trying to downplay it. It doesn’t mean making it smaller. So minimizing a shitty behavior does not mean causing there to be less of the shitty behavior. It means letting the shitty behavior continue while telling anyone who complains about it that its not really that bad, and anyway aren’t there more important things to worry about, and its just not a priority right now, and oh look, over there, shiny squirrel!

  33. To FF:

    I am a dedicated (REALLY, I don’t know) agnost but I will make a (tentative – duh) exception for Terry Pratchett: he may be God (or a small god.)

  34. I’m only surprised it took PZ (who is a very smart guy) this long. But there really is a problem here: Once you identify yourself with any tribe — Christians, Democrats, athests, Red Sox fans, acid heads, wine buffs — there’s an almost automatic tendency to consider non-members unworthy of consideration as fully human. You don’t have to go to the extreme of Nazism for this to be true. Keeping yourself honest is a full-time effort.

  35. sbradfor:

    While I certainly agree with the conclusion you reached, the sample of people you encounter at any law school is, almost by definition, likely to be a little more argumentative and antagonistic than your standard population sample of the same size. And that’s not just a lawyer joke, or the product of a sincere belief that lawyers as a group are assholes or have a larger than standard percentage of jackasses among them. I don’t really believe either of those things to be true. I’m a lawyer myself (so there’s my bias), and my experience in law school was that the competition for class rank and the training the students were experiencing made them more argumentative, antagonistic and less tolerant than I’ve found lawyers themselves to be once the heightened circumstances of law school were behind them. I still think your conclusion is correct, though. I observed the same thing in undergrad when the primary concern of most students had more to do with beer and weed and less to do with trying to get the grades they need to work in NYC or LA.

  36. Eric RoM: “Minimizing shitty behavior is not an accomplishment to be sneered at”

    As Bunwat noted, it’s being used in the “excusing” definition rather than “working to draw it down” definition. But I’ll change it in the text to make that more clear.

  37. PZ’s (and many others’) expectation that people would become better people once they throw off the chains of religion is fairly irrational, and seems to be a common kind of belief in a post-Christian society that forgets where its values came from.

    If you’re religious, and you want to be a decent human being, you’ve got a set of values that tell you what being a decent human being means, and a community that’ll encourage you to adopt those values, and maybe even a Book that’ll tell you what the values are and why they’re good, and maybe one or more supernatural beings to help or an afterlife where you’re promised some rewards or punishments to motivate you. They may or may not actually be a very good set of values, and the community may or may not do a good job of teaching them or living up to them, but you’ve got them.

    If you’re an Atheist, and you want to be a decent human being, dude, you’re on your own, pretty much by definition. You don’t get a book of rules defining decent human beings or even a yardstick to measure whether it’s good or bad or whether being good or bad even matters, and being a scientific evolutionist makes it even tougher, because the yardstick of “these animals acted like this and they’re not dead yet” doesn’t give you any moral comparison (unlike pseudo-scientific evolutionists who think it’s about “progress” which lets them insert their previously held values into it, whether they’re the types who like wolves or bonobos or beetles.) You don’t get a community defined by people wanting to be decent human beings; if you get any community at all it’s a community of people who’ve rejected one previous value system, and have a high certainty that once they’re dead, they’re dead, so they’ve only got a few years to do what they want.

    If you’re a humanist, that’s different; it’s saying you want to be a decent human being and hang out with other people who want to be decent human beings, even if they don’t have a religion to help them or a universal objective standard of what “decent human being” means or an expectation that being a decent human being has any transcendent value. And you’ve even got Sunday mornings free for meetings, because of the values of the dominant culture.

    But for atheists, the main reason to expect that an atheist community might be better than a bunch of average people isn’t that you’ve excluded the people who want to kill heretics, it’s that if somebody’s too annoying, you can stop sending them emails with the meeting announcements. Having a higher amount of rationality in the group isn’t totally orthogonal to being better people, since it’s a skill set that can sometimes help you see the effects of your actions better, but it’s still fairly independent.

  38. (And yes, I realize some of our society’s values came from the Greeks or the Enlightenment, and that Buddhists are a special case of atheists who do have a community and a Buddha and dharma to take refuge in. And the dominant culture also offers brunch and sleeping in after Saturday night parties as competing activities to Sunday morning meetings.)

  39. Isn’t the problem the whole “movement” thing? Once anything becomes a movement, it attracts the kind of people you would rather not associate with… Often they end up running things.

  40. Shitcanoe: a canoe full of shit or a a canoe made for traveling down a river of shit?

    It’s shit like this which keeps me up at night.

  41. Bill Stewart:

    “If you’re religious, and you want to be a decent human being, you’ve got a set of values that tell you what being a decent human being means, and a community that’ll encourage you to adopt those values”

    I would argue that’s not really true. Take American Christianity for example: it has been used both to support and oppose abolitionism, to support and oppose segregation, to support and oppose same-sex marriage. The alleged yardstick that you get from institutionalized religion is as malleable as any standard non-religious people have, because religions are ultimately made up of people, whose attitudes and beliefs are neither monolithic nor stable. Both religious and non-religious individuals figure out how to be decent by applying social and group mores to their actions. Non-religious individuals might be on their own in the communal sense (i.e., not a lot of atheist churches out there*), but even religious individuals pick and choose which parts of holy writ are to be followed.


    *”Not a lot” still acknowledges that they’re some out there, of course.

  42. I’m actually fascinated by people who think that non religious people can’t possibly have a moral compass or a moral system or even any justifiable rationale for one. And I mean fascinated in the real sense, not in the I’m going use that as a euphemism for some more insulting word sense. Because it’s like this little marker that the person I’m talking to has a world view that is so not like my world view that I might as well be speaking to an alien. So then I get fascinated and curious. Hey alien? What’s it like inside your alien head? How does it all operate? Why are we so VERY different? What causes that? Do you like sandwiches? And many other questions.

  43. I always find it good to have assholes in groups I associate with. Reminds me not to judge groups I’m not in by the assholes they’ve got as members.

  44. I’m an Atheist that abides by two hard and steadfast rules that have, so far, kept me emotionally stable and cool headed.

    Rule 1: Don’t be a dick. (a.k.a. The Rule of Wil)
    Rule 2: Don’t waste mental and emotional energy arguing with crazy and/or stupid.

    These work for me. :)

  45. I still wrestle with Rule 2, because the problem is, sometimes crazy and stupid doesn’t stay in its own corner, it comes over and tries to run my life for me. So sometimes, on some topics,, arguing with it seems like a preemptive defense.

  46. Am I misremembering, or isn’t ‘There is no cause so right that you won’t find an asshole following it’ one of Niven’s Laws?

    Especially since assholes are driven towards causes to a greater extent than non-assholes are and since, as assholes, they don’t care much about whether a cause is right or wrong — what matters to them is that it’s a cause.

  47. One thing that atheists definitely have in common with geeks/SF fans is that they tend to think they’re smarter than the average person. Which is not only not necessarily true, but leads to a certain obnoxious smugness. (See Dunning-Kreuger.) And I say this as a lifelong atheist and SF fan.

    But it’s worth noting that intolerance and *ism does seem to generate more controversy in geek/SF/techie/atheist/humanist/gamer circles than in, say, sports fandom or even politics. Which is kind of a good thing. I think. Yes, there are hordes in these communities defending intolerance and prejudice, but that’s better than communities where nobody bothers to defend it because nobody is attacking it!

    Or maybe I just think that because I’m a geek/SF fan/techie/atheist/gamer. :)

  48. “You get credit for how you deal with other human beings.”

    Wasn’t there a rather radical rabbi who said something along the same lines?

  49. @Marcelo – I’ve been in the process of coming to terms with this myself. So much of geek identity is wrapped up in the experience of having been a victim of bullying (or at least teasing) in school, so I had thought people who’d experienced that and know how it feels would be less inclined to do that to others. Unfortunately, recent events have proved me wrong in spectacular fashion. It’s enough to drive a person to hermitage in a cave, I swear.

    It’d be so much easier if I could go #NotAllGamers, but… well. See our host’s comment above re: turds in punchbowls.

  50. Didn’t realize the inter-left hatred was so strong in England, that sucks.

    @bhenick – I can’t watch Faux News for longer than 30 seconds without risking a psychotic break, since every story seems to be “watch this kitten eaten by coyote, Obama to blame”.

    And I read shitcanoe as a portmanteau of shit and volcano, maybe that is the impact of a certain US politician?

  51. I became an atheist in my teens. Several decades later I discovered organized atheism (and organized skepticism, which has it’s own set of problems). I found some really nice, caring, pleasant people, most of whom are still my friends. I also found some real jerks. For some reason jerks seem to gravitate to the leadership positions, even in groups without an established leadership. Several of these self-appointed leaders were (and are) displaying extremely unpleasant, anti-social behaviors. As a result, I drifted away from organized atheism. Dick the Dawk may be the atheist pope but I’ve become an atheist protestant.

  52. I’m an atheist, but not part of any movement. Because they bug me.

    The way I see it, there are generally two things you can do with your beliefs, whatever they may be:

    1) You can focus them inward, using them to better understand who you are, how you fit in this world, and how you can be a better person and get more out of life.

    2) You can focus them outward, trying to make others believe as you do and judging, often harshly, those who don’t.

    These aren’t mutually exclusive, and people often do both. But I have noticed over the years that the kind of people I respect as being thoughtful, humble, and open seem to spend more time on the former activity, while assholes seem to wallow in the latter.

    And since a movement is all about spreading the views of its members, it tends to end up with more than a few assholes leading the way.

  53. @Pepper: “So much of geek identity is wrapped up in the experience of having been a victim of bullying (or at least teasing) in school”? Not in my experience. Geeks, in my experience, are people with geeky interests. Many, many, many geeks of my acquaintance (including myself) never experienced more than a typical amount of bullying/teasing in school. (A place where almost everyone, geek or not, is likely to experience at least some teasing–kids are good at being dicks. Football fans harass baseball fans, and vice versa–speaking again from personal knowledge, which subverts the common and utterly false myth that geeks don’t like sports.)

    Of course, I’m a third-generation SF fan, and grew up in a college town, so my experience my not be completely typical, but it’s also far from unusual.

  54. Our last few Christmas have been spent with a family member who has gone evangelical atheist. The last one was particularly trying. And it’s not the belief/non-belief that’s the issue, it all stems from that person’s interaction with others. Christmas Eve my wife had enough, got stinking drunk, and ended up cranking up the coverage of the Vatican’s mass to Led Zeppelin volume (note – none of us are or were Catholic). Then came the screaming and slamming of doors. It was most satisfactory.

  55. mgnwa-

    I consider Chris Stedman to be one of the jerks in organized atheism. His jerkness is directed towards other atheists, ones who don’t hold religion and the religious with the high esteem that Stedman insists we should. The Urban Dictionary defines faitheist as:

    An atheist who is “soft” on religious belief, and tolerant of even the worst intellectual and moral excesses of religion: atheist accommodationist.

    Stedman is proud to be a faitheist as shown by the title of his book.

  56. “I don’t believe based on the scientific evidence that the universe needed a creator but as a technicality I’m aware I can neither prove nor disprove that one existed.” As a hardline agnostic/skeptic, I’m curious: what scientific evidence leads to the conclusion that the universe doesn’t require a creator? I’m not aware of any more compelling evidence that the universe doesn’t require a creator, than that it does.

  57. (1) Rule #1: “Don’t Be Evil.”
    (2) Rule #2: repeat until rationally replied to: “Evil is a prehistoric and Medieval Social Construct not in any way Unified with the Partial Differential Equation with Complex Coefficients that seem to fit so many phenomena of the Physical World;
    (3) Rule #3: And they are not Computationally Efficient. You’ll run out of gigabytes per second before you can integrate to find the next moment of the universe;
    (4) Rule #4: The Universe determines its next state at lower Action than anything you can build out of the fundamental building blocks of Reality.
    (5) Rule #5: The cat is BOTH alive AND dead. Where exactly is that described in the Old Testament?

  58. @Xtifr – I wasn’t speaking of individual experience* so much as a piece of cultural identity – how we are portrayed and (more and more often these days) how we portray ourselves. We respond to underdogs; we see ourselves as Peter Parker types, with hidden strengths that go underappreciated or reviled by the rubes around us-

    [SFX: RECORDSCRATCH]

    …huh. That’s remarkably smug. Maybe geeks being assholes isn’t as big a surprise as I thought.

    (*For reference, I was a bullying victim, but more often for the sin of being a quiet, easily-targetable Girl than for being a geek. I didn’t fully grow into my geekiness until adulthood.)

  59. When I discovered that Athiesm/irreligiousness is just as riddle with assholes as Christianity, it didn’t bother me as much. Yeah, I was a little disappointed, but it wasn’t the world-crushing despair I felt when I left the church.

    Bible Churchers were supposed to be “transformed with the newness of the spirit” and have the “indwelling of Christ” and “born again of the Holy Spirit”. etc,etc. They were supposed to be better. They claimed they *were* better, morally. They told me that I was better.

    Non-religious friends have never made any promises like that. They were just themselves. Some friendly, some not. That, I think, is an important difference.

    Humans are the problem, and assholes are everywhere, but at least outside of religion you don’t have the sickening tarp of hypocrisy and pretension and self-righteousness covering everything.

  60. Like others above have noted, I’m also surprised that this revelation was so long in coming. But maybe it’s more obvious when you’re female and see the same sort of treatment of women from atheist groups that you’d expect from the worst of the conservative religious groups.

    As for “I thought we were better than that”… I think that is something one could say about the entire human race. We *should* be better than that. I still keep hope that we’re moving towards a more egalitarian world in the long run, but maybe we’re doomed to these depressing cycles and the sun will die before humans mature.

  61. Reading the article on Pharyngula, I see what’s hitting Myers good and hard is what’s called “activist burnout” when it strikes in any other part of the Social Justice community. Essentially, it’s something which happens in every single activist community when the idealists in the group discover not everyone involved is going to be interested in actually pushing things to the point where they, personally, will be uncomfortable.

    So what tends to happen in social justice movements is this: the pace of change will be set by the most conservative elements. The same thing happens in societies.

    This is how we’ve had the majority of the gains made by feminism being the ones which were the original goals of the original wealthy, white, Western suffragettes – namely, voting rights, property ownership, and access to the professions. After those were achieved, a lot of the wealthy white Western women who had been movers, shakers and financiers of the movement picked up their bags and went back home. They’d got what they wanted, after all. Why should they continue – especially when continuing meant they might have to give up some of their privileges (most particularly the servants who made their campaigning possible).

    It’s why a lot of the progress of the “recognition for non-heterosexual sexualities” campaigns focused on the priorities of well-off white homosexual men.

    It’s why the goals of the civil rights movements were and still are typically those of well-educated, middle-class black men.

    It’s why and how trade unions got captured by the managerial class, why disability rights campaigns tend to “win” things which are most useful for the people who care for people with disabilities, and yes, why organised atheism is turning into a sideshow for people who want to use it as a way of showing off how clever they are, without actually altering anything about the surrounding society. You will get the atheist equivalent of “Sunday Christians” (the type of people whose commitment to their “religion” consists of one church service every Sunday, and nothing more) – the ones who are using it as a branding opportunity more than anything else.

    Idealism takes work, and it takes energy. It is inherently exhausting. In trying to change the world (even for the better) you’re working against one hell of a lot of inertia, because first you have to slow progress (in the sense of “advancing down the path”) in what you consider to be the “wrong” direction, and then you have to turn to face the correct direction (and societies have a metaphorical turning circle which is approximately the size of the orbit of Pluto, if not larger), and then you have to start moving in what you consider to be the “correct” direction. Meanwhile, you have another bunch of people who are trying to do the same thing but pointing slightly turnwise, and a third group who think the ideal is somewhat widdershins of your ideal…

    Meanwhile, the vast mass of people mainly want tomorrow to be a lot like today, so they’re providing friction all the way along the way, because they can’t see how the changes you’re suggesting are going to make tomorrow a lot like today.

    So it’s not surprising activists burn out.

    (PS: the quote from “Night Watch” that FF posted pretty much sums things up as well).

  62. It took me a moment to work out that “shitcanoe” was a portmanteau of “shit+canoe” not “shit+volcano”. I prefer my initial reading – and blame the Sy Fy channel.

  63. It is not faith or the lack of thats the problem. Its how its applied. You embrace a belief and apply its ethos to yourself you improve. You apply it to the people around you, you do not.

  64. A relevant quote from the sidebar of Making light.

    “True religion invites us to become better people. False religion tells us that this has already occurred.” (Abdal-Hakim Murad)

    Replace “Religion” with “Group” and I think you’ve got all pretty well covered. It ain’t the group that cleans up your act for you, you still have to clean up after yourself.

  65. Megpie71, thanks for your comment.
    Reading it was like getting smacked upside the head with a cluestick.

    It all seems so obvious now after reading what you said… like I had all the pieces to the puzzle all in the right places, but still wasn’t seeing the picture because I was still focusing on the die-cut pattern.

    How do we stop the most conservative elements from always being the ones setting the pace of change?

  66. Excellent discussion, as usual.

    I am a believer, but a great irritation to many other believers because I don’t agree that every word of the bible came tumbling out of a divine mouth. Under the circumstances, my best defense is to debate neither with atheists nor believers but look for the good in both. Unfortunately it is often difficult to find.

  67. I enjoyed this essay very much. It brings to mind H. L. Mencken’s famous quote, “Explanations exist; they have existed for all time; there is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.”

    And my own (see the chest thump!) aphorism which paraphrases Von Moltke’s warning about battle plans and first contact with the enemy; No ideology (read also religion) can survive its first contact with human beings.

    Rick York

  68. Taking religion COMPLETELY out of this discussion, I have found that any organization of human beings that lasts beyond a certain point starts to become bogged down in rules, procedures and total asshattery. If you think about any club or organization and look at it’s history, a lot of them started as common interests that were created for some type of constructive purpose. As time goes by, the purpose is often perverted into a power struggle for the few to wield some type of power. As an example, even the National Socialist Party of Germany and Nathan Bedford Forests idea for a gentleman’s club didn’t start out to create the nightmare organizations that later evolved. This took time and assholes to create.
    Dave

  69. Beej:

    Shitcanoe: a canoe full of shit or a a canoe made for traveling down a river of shit?

    It’s shit like this which keeps me up at night.

    Oooh, I can add a third choice-
    Shitcanoe: a canoe made of shit.

    ****

    Theophylact:

    Once you identify yourself with any tribe — Christians, Democrats, athests, Red Sox fans, acid heads, wine buffs — there’s an almost automatic tendency to consider non-members unworthy of consideration as fully human.

    I’d love for you to elaborate more on this, bc I don’t buy it. I get tribalism. I don’t get this idea that identifying with your ‘tribe’ leads people to consider outsiders as less than human.

  70. I have been a very small part (think infantryman in a drone war) of Indian Sceptic / Rationalist movements since I was a teenager. The quantity and quality of backstabbing, political machinations and naked hunger for power that I saw inside some of the major Rationalist associations was staggering for teenage me trying to come to grips with the world.

    Now I am no longer surprised. I see the same things in religious groups, political parties, corporate offices and even local cultural groups. People will be people. They have their own ambitions, priorities and expectations from life. Just because one of my personal goal / belief / interest / whatever aligns with you does not mean the rest 9,999 will as well.

    To add a point to pzmyer’s comment here: if we need to do ten thousand things correctly to be a decent human being, it also means that we get ten thousand opportunities to be a jerk.

  71. Being both pro-science and Catholic, I go with the view that the world is a lot bigger and more fascinating than we might ever comprehend. But for some reason, there are both atheists and Christians who insist on treating their own brand of empirical skepticism or Gospel interpretation as dogma, which is where a lot of groups get into trouble for me. It’s a problem when it becomes less about “What can we achieve together?” and more about “Hey, how dare you say something that doesn’t jive 100% with what we’ve already agreed upon!”

    Can we at least agree, people of faith and people of science, that none of us has all the answers and just try to be nicer to those around us?

  72. I’m terribly confused:

    1) I’ve never heard about this Harris guy before he started shooting his mouth off. Why exactly do people buy books from a man who talks like he’s a character from the television series Mad Men, believes a slightly higher amount of testosterone is like magic pixie dust, has less biological education than an elementary school child, and feels his daughters are irrational, emotional, nurturing inferiors? I mean, seriously, how hard up were you all for atheism lecturers that this happened?

    Atheism and liberalism aren’t synonyms. Anyone can be an authoritarian. And people claim to be rationalists all the time, because it’s just as efficient a way to justify your own behavior as claiming a god backs you up. Plus you still get the enthusiastic followers to send women rape and death threats.

    2) When did atheism become a church with clergy attempting to convert people? And how did Richard Dawkins get elected its Pope? Atheism doesn’t have any dogma, scripture or rules on tithing.

    As an atheist, I fully support attempts to have discussions and organize political efforts to protect the civil rights of atheists for religious freedom and eliminate discrimination against atheism and agnosticism. But atheism is never going to be one movement or have a central authority. It is a common belief held by disparate millions, not a religion. So if you’re going to act like a church, schism. It does not remove assholes, but maybe it will improve women’s safety at conventions.

  73. I really like to say this thing.

    When someone says to me

    “I don’t believe in God.” Or “God wants me to do this, or that thing.”

    I think to myself. “Good, we are going to have an interesting conversation, and perhaps I will learn something about what it means to be alive.”

    When someone says to me, “There is no God.” Or “God wants you to do this or that thing.” I look for the door.

    Life is short, time is precious, today may be a good day to die, but it’s not a good day to waste time arguing with a naked ape who believes that it’s solved the mysteries of existence and is about to explain them to me.

    So when you’re about to participate in any conversation, or activist activity,imagine what the people you are going to be talking to are going to feel. Treat them the way you would like them to treat you. Hey, that’s not a bad idea.

    That’s the end of the slightly profound thought I had once after I hit my head.

    Now, I’ve never claimed to be a saint, truth be told I’m a bad person. Which is why I know how they think. I’ve done my share of trolling, arguing and behaving like a jerk in these sort of debates. I’m sure I’ve lost my share, and won my share. And I’m sure I imagine the ‘won’ share to be twice as large as it should be.

    But if you engage in atheist activism, on any level. Ask yourself this,

    “Do I tell people what to believe?” If yes, you are exactly equivalent to the people you most abhor.

    If instead you can honestly say. “No, I want equal opportunity, access, or whatever other social rights you feel your are being denied by the establishment of religion by the state.” Then you win!

    OK, so maybe you have on occasion done the first thing, but at least aspire to the last thing? Then either way congratulations, you win, you’re at least trying not to be a jerk. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of.. Well meaningless nothingness which seems to be experiencing itself/God/Pasta?Whatever other bullshit explanation you have for existence and or consciousness, feel free to share it with me. I’m sure it’s as wrong as mine.

    One last pro tip. If you are serious about conversing with others who may not share your lack of beliefs, and not intending to be a troll. Please don’t start an article, post, or debate by announcing that you’ve proven there’s no such thing as objective morality, then spend ten minutes explaining why atheists are more objectively moral than theists. It’s embarrassing for anyone with a functional brain to watch. In fact if you’re going to start talking about who’s a jerk, and who’s not, you’re going to have accept that there’s some sort of morality or ideal standard of behavior you are striving for, or hoping to establish among humans. Otherwise the obvious idiocy of the notion will send the conversation straight to hell. As well as being more pointless than arguing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

    The answer, is the area of the head of the pin. As expressed in units equal to one planck length, over three. The ‘angels’ have to materialize feet to be ‘dancing’ and they must make at least one ‘step’ which requires them to have three ‘spaces’ available for those feet to touch the surface of the pin head.

    Proving me wrong? I’m not sure if that’s a self nullifying act or not.

    Because this wall of text which you didn’t read was too short.

    I hammered out a boring blog post.

    http://electricsun-digitaldarkness.blogspot.com/2014/09/people-are-problem.html

    Enjoy the meaninglessness of your existence, blessings of pasta, Grace of God, Goddess, whatever. Many of us would appreciate it if you would be nice to us, and be more likely to be nice to you if you were nice to us. Whether or not we aspire to be unconditionally nice to certain classes of the objects we apparently observe as part of the universe.

  74. Kat Goodwin:

    2) When did atheism become a church with clergy attempting to convert people? And how did Richard Dawkins get elected its Pope? Atheism doesn’t have any dogma, scripture or rules on tithing.

    I’m not sure how it happened exactly, but I suspect it’s a combination of [at least] two things:
    1- The influence Dawkins had on many people rejecting theism. His writings have been cited by atheists as being influential in them ditching god-belief (specifically, though not limited to, The God Delusion).
    2- The public perception of Dawkins as one of the most prominent atheists.

    With regard to #1, I think many people view him in such a good, nearly heroic light, that they overlook his sexism and anti-Muslim bigotry which results in him being seen as a ‘thought leader’. Which probably feeds into the public perception of him. I have to wonder if the authoritarian thinking so commonly found in we humans leads many people to believe that the Atheist Movement has a leader, and since Dawkins is so outspoken and well known, he is that leader, almost by default.

    All of which doesn’t mean he actually is {a leader/pope figure}. Personally, I have no masters, no gods, and no heroes. I do appreciate what Dawkins has done as a biologist, and his role in fighting against religious privilege is not in dispute. It’s not enough though, for him to speak out against religious atrocities and harmful theistic beliefs. He also needs to-at the very least-not contribute to systems of oppression that affect marginalized people (at best, he ought to be actively fighting against those systems). In that respect, I think he’s become a hindrance to the atheist movement with his refusal to engage with his biases and prejudices, as well as his tendency to not listen to criticism leveled against him.

  75. Can confirm, hate disruption.
    Source: wary of change.

    Oh wait you want more details than reddit gets? Well sorry, we’re all out of details, we weren’t expecting such a run. Your choices are now cake with Scalzi or death.

  76. It’s nice to have the topic opened up, because it’s true that “atheism does not equal tolerance” is an epiphany we all need to have at some point, much like other epiphanies like “I as a white person do not actually understand what it is like to not be white – just because I don’t experience injustice doesn’t mean it’s not there” and so on.

    I think Western society has mostly gotten the epiphany of “people do terrible things in God’s name that are horrifying to God (if God exists)” – although Christians like myself are a little slower to realize that we do it just as badly as every other religion. And atheists also need the same realization (with the obvious modification).

    I think sometimes we have a little too much faith in science, forgetting that science is meant to gather data forever, not conclude, “Now we know everything and are done.” Obviously things like Climate Change have enough of a consensus that we can act on the evidence we have, but that’s rare.

    Louise Curtis

  77. @Ben Henick

    One piece of the belief-vs.-atheism debate that is applicable here, I believe, is the fact that where a great many atheists have come to their ethos as a result of religious assholes, I’ve yet to meet a Christian who ever claimed that abuse of power or demonstrated hypocrisy on the part of an atheist ever induced them to believe that the latter was a crock of shit.

    Anecdata only, but the assholishness of prominent atheists, and lesser-known ones too in their publications, absolutely served to put me off exploring the idea any further. No, I’m not Christian, but not the agnostic-verging-on-atheist I was then, either.

    @ambidexter 143

    Dick the Dawk may be the atheist pope but I’ve become an atheist protestant.

    I <3 this.

    @jeroljohnson, props to your wife. That sounds awesome.

    @interested in things

    But if you engage in atheist activism, on any level. Ask yourself this,

    “Do I tell people what to believe?” If yes, you are exactly equivalent to the people you most abhor.

    Whoa yeah. I’ve had as many encounters with that sort of pushy twerp as of the religious variety. I love being told that believing in an afterlife means I need to get psychotherapy. You might want to talk to actual psychologists on that matter. They’ll surprise you.

  78. Meh, didn’t phrase that well: I was trying to make my last comment less aggro. The “you might want to consider that” is addressed to pushy atheist jackasses who tell me belief = mental illness, not to anyone on this thread!

  79. This is sort of tangential, but I am curious to know whether you think assholes can be reformed. I wonder especially about assholes who do not think they’re assholes, as we know that it is not their ignorance of their asshole-ness which is more problematic for change but their belief that they are not assholes. Or is there some innate asshole-ness in us all, and only some of us are aware of that and are actively working to not be assholes? If that is the case then how can we get more people to accept this?

    “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”-Daniel J. Boorstin

  80. Well, he wasn’t a Nazi, but he was brother to one of the biggest, so that might count. Anyway he was Hermann Goering’s kid brother and he ran a one-man resistance campaign against the Nazis: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_G%C3%B6ring

    His story deserves to be better known. And I’ll bring it closer to the topic under discussion by saying that he knew what it was to truly love his fellow man.

  81. I think the reason that the belief of so many (including me, before I was rudely disabused of it) that getting rid of religion would get rid of the awful behavior is that so much of it is tied so strongly to religious precepts. It’s an error of attribution. Religion says women are lesser than men, so if we get rid of religion, we get rid of the rule that women are lesser than men, and no one will think that any more. Right? The error was in thinking that the belief “women are lesser than men” sprang up from the religion, rather than realizing it was there all along and religion just provided a cover excuse for it.

  82. @Kat Goodwin: ORGANIZED Atheism does have all those problems (same as organized religion), and because it’s an organization there are leaders and figureheads. Dawkins is one of those.

    Cherish the scientist has an interesting post about her experiences with organized atheism: http://cherishthescientist.net/2014/09/17/ms-cherish-goes-to-the-atheist-meeting/ . She seems to realize right away how problematic and dogmatic it is. Open source (or “disorganized”) atheism may not have those kinds of problems, but open source religious belief may not either!

  83. Organized Atheists, and those that rant and rail against organized religions, should be referred to as anti-theists rather than atheists. Dawkins is one of those.

  84. I’m okay with “we should be better than that” when it’s used to call out bad behaviour, eg. “What were you thinking, doing [shitty thing]? We’re supposed to be better than that.” I’m not at all okay with it when it’s used as an excuse to avoid implementing a system of checks and balances.

  85. I think it comes down to treating people the best you know how, while recognizing that people , being people, will almost always harbor some little bit of assholery about them. (yes, me too, and that encourages me to try not to indulge in it).

    Regardless of belief system, why would anyone want to join a group whose principles or leaders are antithetical to the beliefs you own? Better to enjoy your life, cherishing the decent human beings in it, and avoiding the shitcanoes (love that word, John; should be the name for your next cover band) if at all possible; life is too short and there are not enough of the former and too many of the latter.

    @bunwat: I’ve been inside my head. You don’t want to go there. / don’t want to go there, either. Also, I think a nice hot ham and gouda cheese on rye is heaven!

  86. I never really understood why so many people, including Dawkins, seem to believe that organized mythological beliefs are the cause, as opposed to the rationalization, for human behavior, good and bad. I mean, Zeus can’t make anyone do stuff because Zeus doesn’t exist. Blaming Zeustianity for Zeustians behaving badly, and praising Zeustianity when Zeustians act charitably, sort of misses the whole boat, IMHO. Which isn’t to say believing in Zeustianity is a neutral thing. Obviously a more realistic model of the universe will lead to more realistic interfacing with it and your neighbors. But it was never going to be the end of bad human behavior. PZ Myers is one smart cookie. I’m not saying this to be all I told you so, but I am a little bit surprised that wasn’t obvious to him from the get-go.

  87. @Megpie71.
    I never looked at “activist burnout” in the way you described. I like to think I try to stay on top of trends in the Social Justice movement but you really gave me a lot to think about.

  88. Speaking as a long time postrationalist (as rational is to irrational, postrational is to rational), I’ve never seen atheism as anything but the logical extension of the Reformation to its absurd end. The whole culture war enterprise strikes me just one stage of an ongoing expansion and contraction, an inhale and exhale of the human experiment but hardly the end state.

    I tend toward the animist side of things, where gods are optional or not accredited with the powers of the monotheist gods or are considered aggregations of consciousness that occur at a level “above” us but perhaps not distinct from us. Here, there are lots of “earth religion” people and I find that this part of the spectrum is mostly women. Lots of divorced women who have freed themselves from dependency on men and are finding a new way for themselves who aren’t buying into the dominant Christian vs. Scientism thing.

    There are a lot of people who make all the noise and write books and tour who are women-friendly men, and if you spend any time there you find it rooted in women’s experience. Lots of women who are tired of both Christians (and other Religions of the Book) and Scientismists man’splaining the world to them. This is a newer thread of belief in the culture that sees itself in contrast to those two existing dominant poles. I wonder if the next culture war is going to pit the male gods of monotheism and science against the women’s earth religion? Stay tuned!

  89. Here is the thing, John:

    “Atheism” was a dirty word for a long time, especially in the US where it was regarded by many as the same as “Communism”. Atheists were looked at with scorn by the populace, and often considered enemies of the state. That’s a long story and I shan’t get into it here.

    In the latter half of the 20th Century, a movement started that had a lot of Atheists in it, known as the Skeptic Movement. Skeptics are particularly interested in reason and logic. They particularly focus on poor reasoning and cognitive bias in the human brain, which are a big cause of what you’re talking about. Skeptics don’t believe they are above these biases, but they believe in trying to recognize them when they occur, particularly when someone points them out in your own thought processes. What those are is a long story, and I shan’t get into it here.

    (Please note I’m not saying believers can’t be skeptics; it’s just there’s a lot of overlap between atheism and skepticism)

    In the latter, latter half of the 20th Century, some men released some books in which they used the word “Atheism” over and over again, and “Atheist” became a much more commonly used word. The “Atheist Movement” started to further distinguish itself from the “Skeptic Movement”. It’s a long story and I shan’t get into it here.

    Finally, on the cusp of the 20th century and into the start of the 21st century, it emerged that the Catholic Church had been systematically covering for many priests who were abusing children. Many people were very angry about this and started calling for more transparency in the Vatican and also for certain people to lose their positions within that Organization. Several of the loudest and most well-heard people saying such things were the men who wrote said books.

    And yet, now, many women have come forward saying one of these men date raped her. Other women have come forward saying he sexually harrassed them, and that the organization he was a representative of took great pains to ignore and obfuscate these claims, for years. It wasn’t nearly as big or as well-known as the Catholic Church Abuse Scandal, but the difference was in degrees, not in kind.

    Now, unfortunately, several of these men are rushing to defend these behaviors.

    So the reason PZ is saying “The Atheist Movement should be better than this” is because a) He also means “The Skeptic Movement”, who encourage thinking critically and making sure your own arguments, behaviors and biases are subjected to the same rigor as your opponents, and b) The fact is “The Atheist Movement” has been leading the charge denouncing a very similar form of behavior from a very prominent religious organization, and c) decrying all religion as a major source of misogyny and rape culture while refusing to face its own issues with those topics.

    tl;dr

    Because the Atheist Movement and Skeptical Movements pride themselves on preaching reason and logic, and denoucing religion’s abuses of power, many within said movement feel that some prominent atheists’ own privileged and misogynistic behaviors are particularly hypocritical.

  90. Joseph Solomon:

    I’m aware of the recent events within the atheist/skeptic movement, and I’m not particularly sure how your summation changes things with regard to the point of the entry.

  91. I am often surprised by how often the kind of annoying things people do resembles what my midbrain (I’m autistic) wants to think. (And, occasionally, I wonder if it has a point about other people….)

  92. My feeling is that a belief system can be something that is a part of your overall personality, or it could be something everything else hinges on – a foundation, if you will. If one defines every aspect in their life as a function of their religious belief (or non-belief), that would tend to make one more militant about that belief.

  93. Joseph Solomon:

    “Atheism” was a dirty word for a long time, especially in the US where it was regarded by many as the same as “Communism”. Atheists were looked at with scorn by the populace, and often considered enemies of the state.

    Was? That’s still going on now.

    nicoleandmaggie:

    ORGANIZED Atheism does have all those problems (same as organized religion),

    That was my point: there is no organized atheism. There are atheist organizations and conventions, political efforts and such, of one kind or another, but that’s not the same thing as organized atheism. Atheism is one belief. Someone who believes that there is nothing supernatural in the universe may still believe that aliens visit our planet. Or, as Scalzi does, that acknowledging that there is no scientific way to prove or disprove a god’s existence means he feels he’s partly an agnostic instead. Someone who is atheist or even involved in atheist political actions or organizations is not the same as anti-theist.

    An organized religion, a faith, a church, is organized around a set of beliefs, not one belief. They have officials who establish those beliefs as orthodoxy and administer them to the members of the faith. Atheism has one commonly held belief that requires no establishing and no other agreement. It doesn’t matter if some atheists get together on Sundays for lectures and singalongs, or that others have potluck suppers or run a charity or write an article in the newspaper. There’s no church. There’s no wrangling to have one comprehensive doctrine of atheism. It would be impossible to do so.

    These men have no official authority; they can’t ex-communicate anyone, there is no cohesive movement even if there are political campaigns and writings by atheists. They are not the spokespeople for jack shit, nor do they have any control over other atheists. Any attention, any position in an organization, etc., they receive is entirely volunteered by other people and can be removed in attention by the same people. Those who follow them as religious gurus have no power either. Atheists are free to write, form their own organizations and conventions, and walk away from anyone they consider heinous.

    I like Meyers’ posts a lot and this one led me to other eloquent and sincere posts by interesting people who should probably be the ones with the bestselling books. But the plaintive cry in a lot of these posts that they’re done sounds an awful lot like they think they’re lapsing Catholics disenchanted with the latest vatican council. But atheism isn’t a church and so that is not what is occurring. It’s just people having fights about how they see humans, not religion.

    The issue really isn’t that there are people who behave badly towards their fellows’ civil rights in any group of people who come together for one thing or another. It’s the tendency of people to worship, especially but not exclusively in the Western world white straight men (often who are tall and stately looking,) as idols and preachers. In every group of humans there are worshippers, some of whom are then surprised to realize that they can walk away from those objects of worship when they start babbling like idiots. Or when they turn out to be predators. The idol is only an idol if you say he’s an idol. A leader is only a leader if either you say he’s your leader or you’re in a group or military who can force you to stay. And I’m pretty sure that just being an atheist does not create the latter, outside of government law issues.

    It’s our desire to turn all sorts of associations and communities into religious faiths — sports, geekery, guns, donut lovers, etc. — to worship some individuals as ecumenical leaders elevated above the rest — that creates a lot of wide-spread nasty behavior and discrimination. We don’t want to treat people as people, individual and equal and struggling. We want to treat some people as heroes who will lift us all up into some sort of utopia. (And frequently those people are males because we’re trained that males are the heroes.)

    I’m glad that people are taking to task and being critical about men like Harris and Dawkins. That should be happening with anybody. It might even get through to Harris and Dawkins, or at least to some younger folk. But the more you talk about it as a united religion that is in upheaval, the more power you give to these men that they really do not have. I’d strongly suggest to any atheist involved in discussion or political action about atheism to stop using the phrase organized atheism. Because it’s ridiculous.

  94. A couple of other thoughts regarding activism, conservatism and activist burnout.

    1) The amount of change you’re going to see as a result of any form of activism is pretty much a physics equation:

    change = (effort x time) – friction.

    So, to increase the pace of change, you need enough effort over a long enough period of time to overcome the forces of friction working in the other direction. Also note change is a vector, and therefore requires a direction, and can be opposed.

    2) The people in any movement who have the most available time and who are willing to put in the greatest amount of effort are the ones who will determine the particular direction of the change vector you’re looking at. Due to the way society is set up, they’re also likely to be the kinds of people who conform most closely to the existing social norms – they may only differ from the norm in one key aspect. (See my earlier examples of the way that feminism’s goals are largely set by wealthy white Western women; the way the goals of the “rights for non-heterosexuals” movements were largely hijacked by the goals of the upper-middle class white male homosexuals; or the way that the civil rights movement in the USA largely chased the goals of educated, middle to upper-middle class blacks).

    3) Unfortunately for most movements, these people are also the ones who will stop working toward change once their particular problem has been resolved. They will withdraw their effort and time, and in some cases may well start working actively against any further progress, on the grounds this will harm them (again, my go-to example is the way a lot of wealthy suffragettes dropped out of organised feminism as soon as they got the vote, and actively resisted efforts to further campaign for the rights of women – particularly in areas such as wage equality – because it would make it harder for them to hire servants).

    4) When a movement schisms, the pace of change will slow, stop, or even regress. This is because change, as noted before, is a vector quantity, and requires direction. Two changes in opposing directions will cancel each other out. Internal movement politics is an excellent opposing vector for people who are uneasy with the pace of change to introduce as a way of slowing things down.

    5) The more people a change affects, the longer it takes to become normal.

    6) Energy is finite. Everyone runs out at some point.

  95. An organized religion, a faith, a church, is organized around a set of beliefs, not one belief. They have officials who establish those beliefs as orthodoxy and administer them to the members of the faith.

    Kat, you realize you’re imposing a particular lens (a Christian one, to be specific) on “religion” in general. You’re also, I think, confusing reverence for a religious figure for the human tendency to cling to heroes because we think they are a sort of larger, better version of ourselves.

  96. There is an imposition by the so-called leaders of the atheist movement of what they think is acceptable. Look at the sneers handed to people merely for being agnostic rather than atheist, or better yet, anti-theist. Look at the way events have been run: it’s been all about protecting the predators, minimising what they do (from harassment to rape) and protecting the movement, or the organisation, such as TAM. That’s meant attacking women who’ve spoken up, and their supporters. The whole business with the ‘pitters came from their rage at a woman daring to say “Guys, don’t do that.” And they’ve every reason to point to their Great Leader as supporting their misogyny, when Dawkins is still carrying a grudge against Rebecca Watson three years later, getting her blackballed from events they were both to speak at, and posting more and more rape-apologetic tweets. The atheist movement doesn’t have an actual formal structure, or the power of religious organisations, but it sure as hell has set itself up as yet another white men’s playground, no girls allowed unless they’re there to be sex toys.

  97. When I was younger, I believed that SF/Comics/Anime/Gaming/Video Gaming/FANDOM IN GENERAL culture was generally more tolerant and smarter than other groups. We weren’t and we aren’t. Most groups believe in that exceptionalism and it is, of course, a delusion. Nerds in particular want to believe this to be true, since many of us came up enjoying hobbies and things that, for a long time, were considered childish, weird or somehow dangerous.

    But as even a cursory examination of topics like ‘gamergate’, Milo Manara’s Spider-Woman cover, the debate over the SDCC’s harrasment policy and a host of other news items in the SF community show, these groups wrestle with the same topics in equal measure as the rest of society.

    I just wish my tribes didn’t turn out to have so many assholes in it, but that’s just how it is.

  98. If atheism or religion could make humans stop behaving like status-seeking primates, what would be the deal with all of the other species of status-seeking primates. Do chimps have religion, or a lack thereof?

  99. Come on John.. is Shitcanoe a canoe made from shit, or a canoe filled with shit, or a canoe that you use to transverse a river of shit.

    Inquiring minds want to know.

  100. “An organized religion, a faith, a church, is organized around a set of beliefs, not one belief. They have officials who establish those beliefs as orthodoxy and administer them to the members of the faith.”

    Err… except for all the religions that fall under a Pagan umbrella. A good deal of us have a slight allergy to “Officials” and “orthodoxy.” ;)

  101. Mythago:

    Kat, you realize you’re imposing a particular lens (a Christian one, to be specific) on “religion” in general. You’re also, I think, confusing reverence for a religious figure for the human tendency to cling to heroes because we think they are a sort of larger, better version of ourselves.

    No, I’m not. Religious beliefs and organized religion are not the same things. An organized religion organizes around a set of chosen spiritual beliefs (which may be a sub-set of a larger organized religion,) and forms an institution to support that set of beliefs, and that institution creates meeting places and houses of worship and clergy officiates of some kind to run those meetings, places of worship, and manage the doctrine of the organized religion’s beliefs. The ancient Greek Olympian organized faith had a system of temples, shrines and priests and other officiates who administered to the members of that faith. Those officiates could throw members out of the organized religious community and declared them no longer of that faith, set rules about how the organized religion would be conducted and what were its core beliefs. Every organized religion from all the various stripes of Buddhism to different organized stripes of Wiccan and neo-pagan, to different stripes of Hinduism, etc. do this. The members of an organized religion may treat officiates with reverence as holy heroes or wise people leaders, or they may be critical of them, but every organized religion is an organized institution around a set of doctrinal values that define that particular organized religion, handled by appointed officiates.

    In contrast, my sister and mother are deists. They believe in a creator god spirit, a religious belief, but they don’t believe in any organized religious faith. A lot of people are deists or hold other spiritual beliefs. They don’t belong to an institution that has officiates administering to them. Atheism, likewise, is not an organized institution with officiates, etc. Organizations that tackle the subject of atheism do not form temples to administer it. They do not operate like religious faiths.

    Do the schools of thought among atheists writing about atheism have any similarity to organized sub-sects of organized religions? A little bit. Those schools of thought have more elaborate systems of belief that they are looking at. But those who speak from those schools aren’t officiates who set the terms for being in a school of thought. They can’t throw you out of the school of thought. They have no power except that which they are given by other people who are indulging in hero worship and thus sometimes treating that person as an officiate.

    So Dawkins can block a woman out of conventions on atheism not because he actually has official power to do so but because people allow him to do so. He cannot unmake her an atheist. He does not administer to anyone, etc. When followers treat Dawkins as an officiate of atheism, they are borrowing concepts from organized religions, but they don’t actually have an organized religion. There are atheist organizations doing various things. But there is not a atheist organization — the official organized atheism.

    So when some atheists are unhappy with Dawkins for being an anti-feminist — which has nothing to do with atheism as a belief — when they talk like they are breaking from an organized religion and Dawkins is an officiate, I think they are falling into a trap of rhetoric. You aren’t going to stem Dawkins’ influence or damage he may do by declaring that he is bad at a job that he never actually had in the first place. Nobody has to leave atheism. Nobody has to leave off making atheist organizations or events. Nobody has to listen to a word that Dawkins says.

    I understand the sense of betrayal that they have about these men. I just don’t think it was a great idea to treat them like they’re your religious leaders in the first place, or to continue to do so as your ex-leaders and idols when you’ve decided to no longer associate with them or write critically about their views. Atheism is not an organized belief system. And it’s never going to be.

  102. I’m going to side with Mythago above: the idea that “organized religion” involves a formalized belief system with a leadership is a very Christian-centric (maybe even Catholic-centric) view of religion. I belong to a religion known as “Orthodox” Judaism, and while you might think “Orthodoxy” is defined by a certain doctrine, people have been debating the finer points of that doctrine for the past two thousand years or so. There are outer limits for what beliefs or practices would generally be considered “Orthodox”, but those limits are fuzzy: different Orthodox rabbis (sometimes even from the same school) will draw different lines between “I think Rabbi X is wrong but he’s still an Orthodox rabbi” and “X is so far out there that they’re not Orthodox any more”. And lesser differences in doctrine do not prevent different Orthodox Jews from belonging to the same religious community: even if I disagree with your opinion about the messianic significance of the State of Israel, I can still accept that your kitchen is kosher.

  103. Wizardru writes:

    When I was younger, I believed that SF/Comics/Anime/Gaming/Video Gaming/FANDOM IN GENERAL culture was generally more tolerant and smarter than other groups. We weren’t and we aren’t. Most groups believe in that exceptionalism and it is, of course, a delusion.

    Self selected groups can be exceptional in some way or another, that doesn’t mean they are exceptional in all ways.

    I expect that a group of physicians would regard themselves as being smarter on average than the general population, and I think they would probably be right; we generally channel brighter students into getting medical educations. That doesn’t necessarily make them more virtuous than the general population in other ways. Likewise, I expect a group of aerobic instructors to be fitter than the general population.

    In my opinion, the tiny band who self-select by attending SF cons do tend to be smarter than the general population. You may disagree, but I would be inclined to ask in that case if you work in a place populated by bright people, and also tend to interact with brighter people in other contexts. I do agree, that this doesn’t necessarily make them wiser, more empathetic, or nicer. Fandom has no shortage of Sheldon Coopers.

    I think tolerance is a mixed bag. Fans may be more tolerant of a range of behavior exhibited by fans, but may not be any more tolerant than others in a broader sense. It isn’t that long ago that a commenter announced that there couldn’t be conservative fans because SF is a pursuit of the open minded, and conservatives aren’t open minded.

    So far I’m describing a much narrower band than broader fandom you describe as fandom in general. Fandom is much broader than it used to be, and it still unfortunately has traditions that were probably meant to shield it from ridicule when it was tiny. Lately, fannish stuff has caught on with millions of people; possibly so many people that it can’t be distinguished from other groups because it is other groups.

  104. @Kat: I think you have a good point, but I can’t quite agree that what I’m seeing here is treating atheism like organized religion.

    Mostly, this is because I’ve seen similar posts about fandom, feminism, video gaming, and so forth: on the one hand, there isn’t a recognized hierarchy, but on the other, the “big names” in the field are so obnoxious in whatever way that a given person doesn’t want to be associated with the subculture any longer.

    Which speaks to your point about heroes and idols.

    But I think it’s reasonable to use the phrase “organized atheism” and mean “conventions, popular online forums, and most of the literature” in the same way that someone might say they’re disillusioned with “fandom” and mean “I’m not going to any more cons and I’ve stopped posting on rec.arts.sf*” or say they’re sick of “video game culture” and mean “fuck you, PAX.”

    *Or whatever the kids use today. Tumblr?

  105. I’m an outsider to all religion, never been in one, so thins should be taken with a grain of salt. But from what I’ve seen, some belief-based congregations are a lot less hierarchical than others. That said, I think Kat makes a solid point about the tendency to anoint clerics/speakers/experts/gurus as the people organizations and the prevailing crowds within communities turn to for guidance. When people want to reinforce the need to believe they anointed someone worthy of that respect, it can easily become hero worship. And when the screw-ups pile high enough to cross individual thresholds, sentiment may turn on the heroes and the heroes take a fall.

    What I find interesting is how rarely anyone says yup, I screwed up by following that asshat in wiseman’s clothing. It almost always seems to be more along the lines of that leader turned out to be a total snake, but he had everyone fooled so there was no help for it.

  106. Yes, Rabbi X is still a rabbi because he’s hired by whichever Orthodox Jewish temple wanted him to be their officiate. There’s a rabbi — an officiate — and a temple — it’s organized and institutionalized. There are doctrines that may vary slightly by sub-sects or temple, and there are operating systems for the religious faith. Members may adhere a lot or a little to those belief systems and doctrines, but they belong to the congregation of the temple. And they can get kicked out of the temple under systematic institutionalized regulations presided over by the officiates. That’s what organized religion means:

    Dictionary:

    1. Organized religion, also known as institutional religion, is religion as a social institution, in which belief systems and rituals are systematically arranged and formally established.

    And presided over by appointed officiates.

    organized-religion
    Noun
    (plural organized religions)

    A religion in which rules exist to govern the means by which adherents participate in the religion.

    Like rules of keeping a kosher kitchen interpreted and explained by a Rabbi of your temple and other Rabbis of other temples within your organized religion faiths, i.e. Judaism (an organized religion,) Orthodox Judaism (an organized sub-sect religion,) and your particular temple (an organized sub-sub-sect religion.)

    noun

    Organized Religion:

    (religion) institutionalized religion, usually with a hierarchical clergy and rules to govern the means by which adherents participate

    If you don’t keep a kosher kitchen, you may or may not get kicked out of the particular Orthodox temple, depending on what officiates and directors (or those officiates above them,) of the temple decide according to the regulations and doctrines of the institutionalized faith.

    So very simply, my Wiccan friends, Muslim friends, Christian and Jewish friends and relatives are in organized religions. (Some Wiccan and neo-pagans are not, and just have various beliefs grouped under pagan, but the ones I know are.) My deist relatives, agnostic and atheist friends and relatives are not. Doesn’t make any of their beliefs less profound. It just means some of them participate in an organized institutionalized faith with officiates and some don’t.

    My point was that it surprised me that atheism writers had borrowed the phrase and tried to use it as organized atheism. Atheism is not institutionalized. It’s not possible to institutionalize atheism. There is not a belief system of atheism, there are not officiates, there are not congregations, there are not rules for belonging to or doctrines of belief of some sort of official atheism institution. It is an oxymoron. There is no way to be an orthodox atheist. Dawkins is not an officiate Rabbi of squat.

    So it surprised me that these lovely atheist writers and others were writing in language as if they had to give up some sort of institutionalized belief system beyond their atheism, as if they realized they were about to be expunged from an institution for disagreeing with someone else. But it’s not unique to atheism. We tend to see whatever communities we are in as institutions and exalt certain well known people in them. (I think Megpie’s points were apt.)

    But I’m not terribly criticizing these writers either. They’re grieving. But Dawkins — whose work I’ve never read and barely know about — being able to blacklist a woman is again not because Dawkins is an asshole. It’s because people decided to support him and give him the power to do it. They made him an officiate of whatever events and organizations they’re involved in. And that’s often a much bigger problem than the person they elevate. Obviously it is going to mean a lot of new organizations and events, and that’s a tiring and disheartening situation.

  107. Isabel Cooper:

    Sorry, I did the cross posting thing.

    But I think it’s reasonable to use the phrase “organized atheism” and mean “conventions, popular online forums, and most of the literature” in the same way that someone might say they’re disillusioned with “fandom” and mean “I’m not going to any more cons and I’ve stopped posting on rec.arts.sf*” or say they’re sick of “video game culture” and mean “fuck you, PAX.”

    Point taken. I guess I didn’t really see that there would be a lot of confusion over the term organized religion. And others probably don’t see “organized atheism” as strange a phrase as I do. It does, however, give a mantle of an institution in the same way that it is given to such concepts of fandom, as in keep the fake geeks out of fandom — problematic.

  108. Yes, Rabbi X is still a rabbi because he’s hired by whichever Orthodox Jewish temple wanted him to be their officiate.

    You are still interpreting Judaism from a Catholic-centered view of religion. In Catholicism (as I understand it—Catholic readers please correct me), the priest is an essential intermediary between the lay congregation and God (as Catholics understand Him). Judaism doesn’t work that way.

    tl;dr — An Orthodox synagogue is an organization, but Orthodox Judaism is not an organized religion.

    A rabbi is a rabbi whether or not he (or she[*]) is employed by a synagogue, and a synagogue is a synagogue whether or not it has a rabbi. A synagogue as a single institution generally has the power to hire and fire its rabbi, but doctrine is not the only criterion they use for deciding who is worthy, and may not even be the most important criterion. In my experience (having served on my synagogue’s rabbinic search committee), while there are certain particular issues that particular members care about, the congregation as a whole is not looking for adherance to a doctrinal party line.

    In the Orthodox world, synagogues may belong to associations (such as the Orthodox Union or the National Council for Young Israel), and as part of that membership, there may be contractual restrictions on who the synagogue may hire as a rabbi and what Jewish practices they may permit. (For example, IIRC, a synagogue belonging to NCYI has to close its parking lot on Shabbat.) And there are rabbinic associations with their own criteria for membership. But none of these associations own the trademark on “Orthodox Judaism”, so none of them have the power to read a certain person or opinion out of the movement.

    And there are rabbis who have no official position in any major Jewish institution, but who are widely respected in the Orthodox movement (or subsects thereof), and so when they offer an opinion about something, a large number of people who share their ideology take that opinion seriously. How does that compare with Dawkins’s influence on the atheist community?

    [*] The whole question of whether women can be Orthodox clergy is currently one of those issues on the fuzzy boundary of the movement, and is tied into that controversy over the True Meaning of ordination.

  109. Seth Gordon:

    You are still interpreting Judaism from a Catholic-centered view of religion.

    I’m not interpreting Judaism at all. Are you trying to say that Orthodox Judaism is not an organized, institutional religious faith, that it is no different from other forms of Judaism or from Christianity or Buddhaism? That those are not organized religions either?

    In Catholicism (as I understand it—Catholic readers please correct me), the priest is an essential intermediary between the lay congregation and God (as Catholics understand Him). Judaism doesn’t work that way.

    It doesn’t matter what the doctrine is about the officiate or anything else. It matters that there is an organized doctrine of some sort. It doesn’t matter if the officiate is considered doctrinally the intermediary with the divine or if the officiate is a member of the congregation who is just supposed to run the ceremony for the day, which depends entirely on the doctrine of the particular organized faith. There’s an officiate who administers to the members of the congregation.

    A rabbi is a rabbi whether or not he (or she[*]) is employed by a synagogue, and a synagogue is a synagogue whether or not it has a rabbi.

    Yes, because the rabbi is an officiate of the sect. And the synagogue is an organized institution of members. It’s an organized religious faith.

    A synagogue as a single institution generally has the power to hire and fire its rabbi, but doctrine is not the only criterion they use for deciding who is worthy, and may not even be the most important criterion.

    Yes, the synagogue is an institution — an organized religion. It has the power given by its members to appoint an officiate. I never said anything about how officiates were appointed and that this is critical to a having an organized religious faith. (Just for reference, doctrine isn’t the sole criterion of churches appointing priests or ministers either.) But you do have a doctrine — a system of beliefs that come into play. You hire rabbis who run services, lead meetings, and whatever duties your organized doctrine and decided regulations has the rabbis do. You have a synagogue institution. It’s an organized religion.

    In my experience (having served on my synagogue’s rabbinic search committee), while there are certain particular issues that particular members care about, the congregation as a whole is not looking for adherance to a doctrinal party line.

    You were an appointed officiate deciding on the hiring appointment of another officiate. When I talked about adherence to doctrine, and when the dictionary definition talks about it, it was about members, not officiates. Your synagogue has the ability to kick members out of the congregation, which can be done by rabbi officiates or other officiates, such as directors and officials. They may do so if a member does not follow doctrine, they may not. There may be systems (organized systems,) for members to appeal or restrain an eviction, but there’s an institution and members can leave it or be removed from it by officials according to the rules the institution sets. Because it is an organized religion.

    [blockquote] In the Orthodox world, synagogues may belong to associations (such as the Orthodox Union or the National Council for Young Israel), [/blockquote]

    The synagogue is the organized institution of the religious faith that administers the doctrine to its congregation.

    [blockquote] and as part of that membership, there may be contractual restrictions on who the synagogue may hire as a rabbi and what Jewish practices they may permit. [/blockquote]

    organized religion deciding on appointing officiates and doctrine

    [blockquote] (For example, IIRC, a synagogue belonging to NCYI has to close its parking lot on Shabbat.) [/blockquote]

    doctrine, a system of beliefs held by an organized institution = organized religion

    [blockquote] And there are rabbinic associations with their own criteria for membership.[/blockquote]

    organized doctrine

    [blockquote] But none of these associations own the trademark on “Orthodox Judaism”, so none of them have the power to read a certain person or opinion out of the movement. [/blockquote]

    So your synagogue is not an institution and cannot make anyone leave the synagogue for any reason? It’s just people wandering into a building they don’t own, they may or may not believe in god, they can park cars wherever and whenever they want because there is no sabbath and because there is no organized doctrine, there is no officiate, not even an official, there’s no ceremonies, no rituals, no prayers, no holy documents, no behavior that is required, women can sit where they like and address the crowd, no one’s head is covered, no one is required to pay any money since there is really no synagogue institution to pay to, and so forth. Or is it that you have an institution (synagogue) with officiates (rabbis, cantors, officials and directors,) with an organized doctrine that is a system of beliefs including rules for the synagogue and services within and various organized rituals for different things, said services administered to the members of the congregation by some form of officiate on an official basis? Because the latter is what the world generally calls an organized religion, a religious faith rather than just a religious or spiritual belief.

    [blockquote] And there are rabbis who have no official position in any major Jewish institution, but who are widely respected in the Orthodox movement (or subsects thereof), and so when they offer an opinion about something, a large number of people who share their ideology take that opinion seriously. [/blockquote]

    So I can just call myself an orthodox rabbi and I am one? Or is it a little more complicated than that? :) The belief that teachers/wise members can serve as advisers in the faith and are called rabbis is part of the doctrinal system of beliefs of the faith. Other religious faiths may not have that doctrinal system of beliefs — or they may go even further with it, like some sects of Buddahism. It is a doctrinal difference. Some organized religion sects of Judaism do ordain/officially pronounce women as rabbis (teachers who can serve as officiates) as part of their organized doctrine system of beliefs. As you note, the Orthodox Jewish sect (organized religion,) is debating the issue, with some organized sub-sects rejecting as their doctrine that women can be rabbi officiates and others considering a doctrinal change in their belief system to allow it. Because it is an organized religious faith.

    Organized religion isn’t a bad thing or a good thing, obviously. It’s an institutional thing based on systems of beliefs (doctrines) participated in by congregations of people. You have religious freedom, you can declare Orthodox Judaism not an organized religion if you want, or no different from Reformed Judaism if you want. But if you are expecting me to agree with you that atheist writers and Jewish rabbis are the exact same thing, it’s not going to be happening. :)

  110. @Gulliver:

    What I find interesting is how rarely anyone says yup, I screwed up by following that asshat in wiseman’s clothing. It almost always seems to be more along the lines of that leader turned out to be a total snake, but he had everyone fooled so there was no help for it.

    I’ve seen a good many people on Pharyngula expressing something similar, at least: that they used to admire Dawkins, that he was influential in forming their views on atheism, or in them feeling able to speak about it – and how utterly disillusioned they are, and what feet of clay Dawkins has proven to have. Not sure if that’s quite what you were aiming at, but it seems similar to me.

  111. A synagogue is an institution that facilitates the practice of a religion, but it is not itself a religion, or even a sub-sub-sub-sect of a religion. Its standards for disciplining its members and officers may be stricter or looser than the standards of the religion itself.

    For example, an Orthodox rabbi would not endorse driving on Shabbat (except for very unusual extenuating circumstances), but he might let the synagogue parking lot stay open, because he’d rather have his less observant congregants drive to the synagogue on Saturday morning than drive to the mall.

  112. So I can just call myself an orthodox rabbi and I am one? Or is it a little more complicated than that? :) The belief that teachers/wise members can serve as advisers in the faith and are called rabbis is part of the doctrinal system of beliefs of the faith. Other religious faiths may not have that doctrinal system of beliefs — or they may go even further with it, like some sects of Buddahism. It is a doctrinal difference. Some organized religion sects of Judaism do ordain/officially pronounce women as rabbis (teachers who can serve as officiates) as part of their organized doctrine system of beliefs. As you note, the Orthodox Jewish sect (organized religion,) is debating the issue, with some organized sub-sects rejecting as their doctrine that women can be rabbi officiates and others considering a doctrinal change in their belief system to allow it. Because it is an organized religious faith.

    Well, you couldn’t just call yourself an Orthodox rabbi, but there are people whose claim to the title “Orthodox rabbi” is in dispute. (The two categories that immediately come to my mind are the women who have been ordained by liberal Orthodox institutions, and the Lubavitcher Chassidim who still claim that the late Rabbi Schneerson is the Messiah.) And there is no person or institution—no organization—that has the final authority to adjudicate that dispute.

    Furthermore, nobody in these disputes is “considering a doctrinal change”. The faction within Orthodoxy that believes in ordaining women believes that Jewish doctrine already allows women to be ordained, and cites various Jewish canonical[*] texts to justify that opinion; the majority that opposes this idea can also cite texts in their argument that ordaining women is forbidden. Likewise with the messianic Lubavitchers.

    [*] By “canonical” I mean “respected as authoritative throughout the Orthodox community”, not “selected by some Council-of-Nicea-like institution”. It’s turtles all the way down.

  113. Skeptics SHOULD be better than religious people, because prejudices such as homophobia and sexism are so tied up with religion that rejecting religion without rejecting them seems inconsistent. But there are too many people who don’t examine all of their own biases, so it doesn’t work that way, and every issue ends up needing to be tackled individually.

  114. Gulliver said:

    “What I find interesting is how rarely anyone says yup, I screwed up by following that asshat in wiseman’s clothing. It almost always seems to be more along the lines of that leader turned out to be a total snake, but he had everyone fooled so there was no help for it.”

    Yes, humans find it difficult to admit fault in any context.

    It also is fairly common, it seems to me, for people to become offended or disillusioned when they discover that their “hero figure” is not ideal, and that they then discount anything the hero has said or done even if whatever the hero has done to cause their fall has no bearing on the assessment of merit of those things for which the hero was originally admired for. And it is not uncommon for people to hold their “heros” to higher standards than they hold themselves to, consciously or otherwise.

  115. Seth:

    Well, you couldn’t just call yourself an Orthodox rabbi,

    That’s right, because it is an organized religious faith. I can’t just walk in and say I am one. It doesn’t matter what your doctrinal system of beliefs and related rules are, or how the religion is organized, whether they use a Nicean council from on high or small individual communities with local conditions of worship. It matters that you have them in the first place, whatever they are, as institutionalized faith. And Orthodox Judaism has lots, as do other religious faiths. They are organized into institutions around these sets of beliefs and the doctrines and regulations (forbidding, standards, customs, ceremonies, etc.) of operations developed from them (which can change over time and circumstance — you’re not supposed to drive but we will give you leniency if you at least show up for our organized services.) It’s a religion, it’s organized, it has officiates who run services, and there is a system of beliefs that define that particular religious faith, whether or not all the members of the congregations strictly adhere to all the beliefs or not, but members can be remanded, punished, fined, expunged, etc. according to the organized beliefs and regulations administered by the officiates, such as the rabbi deciding if members can park cars or not.

    I can’t put it any plainer than that. It’s the dictionary definition. If you want to float a new definition of the phrase organized religion in the world, you are welcome to do so. But I think we better stop this on a agree to disagree if we are actually disagreeing basis, or Scalzi may come after us with the Mallet for derailing. :)

    Atheism doesn’t have a system of beliefs or officiates. Dawkins, no matter how wise and heroic he may be to numerous people, should not have the power to block a woman from attending and speaking at atheism conferences and events because he doesn’t like her. That he has that power comes from people giving him that power, declaring him not just to be a wise person or a hero even, but a leader of the atheists who has power over other people who have not appointed him their leader with that power. What Dawkins is, is a bestselling author and a science professor. And that’s it. Most atheists don’t even know who he is. And same for Harris and the rest (the sexual assault issues being more complicated and a bad problem in every area of life.)

    So if nothing else, maybe people who want to get involved in associations or events with each other will do a little better at figuring out who the other people are and not putting them on pedestals and giving them a lot of power over others. But then again, look at elections.

  116. Well, if I went around saying “I am an atheist who believes in a personal God”, I think a lot of people, especially atheists, would give me a o.O sort of reaction. Not because there is an Official Atheist Organization that would cast me out of the, umm, unfaithful for saying so, but because according to the way ordinary people understand the term “atheist”, the statement is absurd.

    Likewise if I said “I am an Orthodox [or Reform or Conservative] Jew who believes that Jesus is the messiah who died for our sins and was resurrected.” Nobody with more than a passing familiarity with Jewish denominations needs to look in a book of doctrine or consult a rabbi before deciding that I am talking out my ass.

    Or “I am a libertarian who believes that major corporations should be nationalized and run for the benefit of the working class.”

    Those are the easy cases. What about “I am an atheist who is a Deist”, or “I am an Orthodox Jew who believes that Rabbi Scheerson will rise from the dead to be our messiah”, or “I am a libertarian who believes that the welfare state can be justified as a form of national defense”? How do people judge these boundary cases? Well, if there are official doctrines or organizations to pass judgement, we often make reference to those. But if those don’t exist—or if the doctrine is ambiguous, or if the organization itself is the locus of contention—then often we, as social creatures, give a lot of weight to the opinions of well-known people who have a reputation for knowing something about the subject.

    Which is why Dawkins, a well-known person with a reputation for knowing something about atheism, matters.

  117. Another point which may have already been brought up (sorry, no time to read the previous 131 comments) is that atheists often point to the hypocrisy of religious people to “prove” their point that religious people are bad or immoral. This is ad hominem, of course, but beyond that, if what you’re saying is true (and I think it is), then we shouldn’t be surprised to find hypocrisy anywhere and everywhere. We atheists/agnostics should be more tolerant of this hypocrisy, because more than likely these religious folks are taking steps to become someone better through religion precisely BECAUSE they have such contrary tendencies that pull them in the opposite direction.

  118. Seth:

    A Deist is someone who believes that there is a Creator god, that the natural world shows the work of this Creator god and that you do not need an organized religion with authority to understand the Creator. So Deism is a set of beliefs, but not an organized religion.

    An atheist has one belief: there is nothing supernatural divine in the universe. Therefore an atheist cannot be a Deist, as the Deist’s set of beliefs is the exact opposite of the atheist’s one belief. Everybody who is an atheist may then also have many other personal beliefs that don’t agree and that don’t have anything to do with being an atheist. One atheist may think that organized religion is an evil on the world that has been the major course of suffering and political and legal repression and want to encourage people to give it up. Other atheists think that tolerance of everyone’s beliefs that do not repress others is essential to humans. Some atheists believe that our DNA comes from aliens. Others are Skeptics, which is a philosophy. Others consider themselves secular humanists, which is a philosophy. Others believe that black people are genetically inferior to European white genetics. And so forth.

    Nobody has to judge whether someone is officially an atheist or not. And nobody has to listen to somebody else just because they are an atheist and the person speaking is an atheist. Dawkins does not matter at all. He is just a person in the universe, a scientist writing books on science and on atheism and politics and whatever else he wants to write about and put out there. His students have to listen to him where he teaches, but atheists don’t because atheists don’t need any moral guidance about their one belief of atheism. They don’t need wisemen to tell them how to be an atheist — hold one belief. They can read about what atheists say about various things, or not. They are atheists either way, whatever their other beliefs.

    And that’s my point: if you feel that Dawkins is a sexist asshole — and he is, though not as much as Harris is — you don’t buy his books, don’t ask him to be involved in groups and events you are planning and go your own way with anyone willing to do the same. You write your words and put them out there. And that’s what people are in the process of doing, and they are grieving because someone said words they valued and turned out to be a jerk. But Dawkins has no power other than what people give him to have over them in their organizations. And their organizations are not atheism. He does not have to be broken away from like he’s a guru. He can just be ignored.

    Dawkins’ books may continue to be of value to some atheists who don’t really know anything about him or don’t care or agree with him, or at least find value in his words and not the man. However, to a lot of people, he’s just going to fade out. And if people in organizations support him and give him power, other organizations will eventually replace them.

    So there are indeed jerks in any group of people. But it’s no different than there turning out to be a jerk in your group of friends and acquaintances. It can hurt a lot, be a betrayal, and require distancing, but they have no authority over you and what you are involved in.

  119. Kat Goodwin:

    An atheist has one belief: there is nothing supernatural divine in the universe.

    Do you mean “supernatural divine” or “supernatural OR divine” here? I’m a bit confused. If it’s the latter, there are atheists who believe in the supernatural.

    And that’s my point: if you feel that Dawkins is a sexist asshole — and he is, though not as much as Harris is — you don’t buy his books, don’t ask him to be involved in groups and events you are planning and go your own way with anyone willing to do the same.

    He’s at least as bad as Harris. When it’s not Dear Muslima it’s blaming rape victims, defending rapists and telling women that it’s immoral not to abort a fetus with Down’s syndrome.

    But Dawkins has no power other than what people give him to have over them in their organizations. And their organizations are not atheism. He does not have to be broken away from like he’s a guru. He can just be ignored.

    And when all the big events are run by the misogynists and rapists? When women are effectively driven out of things like TAM because it’s a predators’ playground, and the organisers will not help victims? When name after name in the atheist movement proves to be a predator or to be defending them? It’s not just Dawkins and Harris, it’s endemic in the atheist movement. It’s things like the Slymepit, fueled by hatred of a woman daring to say “Guys, don’t do that” – a woman, btw, who had spoken at a conference about how much she disliked being hit on an objectified at conferences, and was promptly cornered by a man doing just that. I don’t think it’s just “people giving him that power,” it’s a feeding process, with the misogynists supporting each other in their harassment and trying to make sure it’s a white-dudes-only movement.

    I think you’re underestimating the problem. Simply because atheism isn’t an organisation in the sense a religion may have doesn’t mean its big names don’t have power – look at the power of exclusion they have, or the threats of legal action at least one of them made against his victim. They have the power of wealth and status. They don’t need any more.

  120. Kittehserf:

    Technically an atheist believes there is nothing supernatural including the divine in the universe. So that would make the actual boundary case that Seth was trying to find, an atheist who believes in ghosts or some such. But there is no institution of atheism that can eject such a person from atheism for believing that.

    Thank you for the info on Dawkins, I agree he’s worse than Harris. Ick.

    As for the rest, we are essentially saying the same thing. Organizations were formed and people in those organizations gave power to these men, which they have abused but they have been supported by people continuing to give them power. So new organizations and conventions will need to be formed moving away from these people who support the idea of that power, with people moving away from these men as idols of power. And reform may also occur in some of the current organizations, removing these men from power there. And that’s what is going on now. You cannot have power in a voluntary organization without a base, and when that base leaves or degrades, so does your power. (Yes, these men continue to be privileged and well off white men in society who get published, but that’s true outside of organizations in any case.)

    And my point is that the factual reality is that these organizations which get called the “atheist movement” have no involuntary control over atheism and atheists whatsoever. So as people build and rebuild organizations concerning atheism, whatever those organizations may be and what goals they have, I am encouraging them to stop viewing the current organizations as something like a synod and instead view them as groups of people you join or don’t join. Because the more these men are viewed as powerful warlords of atheism, as if atheism was a country or an organized faith, the more like powerful warlords they’ll get to act.

    I’m actually trying to give some hope here, because if you call these men idols as you break away from them, you are giving them almost as much power as calling them idols you support as leaders. They aren’t idols; they’re just men. Atheism will continue. Atheist organizations will continue. It’s not dependent on a handful of men to say what will happen with atheist organizations, and it’s a dangerous mindset, to my mind, to say that these people who claim the men do have that right are correct in that assertion just because right now they control some purse strings and some conventions.

    As for the sexual assault part, as I’ve said that’s more complicated, because it involves legal crime outside of issues of atheism at all. It’s not just a voluntary grant of power in an organization; it’s allowing the crime to occur in society and covering it up. And again, viewing these men as vaulted leaders, powerbrokers and idols in atheist organizations is a bad idea in this area, as that then supports allowing the crime to occur and covering it up, poisoning the organizations. You don’t call the police on idols, to people’s minds, and that’s a belief that needs to change. They should never have been viewed that way in the first place. But of course the institutionalized sexism of society works in all areas of that society. And our tendency to put idols in place in our social groupings and organizations means you end up with abuses and then comes the dismantling. Sounds like it’s long overdue for these organizations.

    But it need not be a hopeless and despairing thing as if it is near impossible to remove these men from power in voluntary organizations that they were given in the first place. Tides turn quickly in support, crimes are getting uncovered, and humans do have an amazing ability to rebuild. Just not with idols next time.

  121. Technically an atheist believes there is nothing supernatural including the divine in the universe.

    Come now, Kat, you can’t quote dictionary definitions at one point, and then start making up your own definitions later. It’s just bad form.

    What you’re describing sounds like “materialism” or “naturalism”. There’s certainly a lot of crossover in the Venn diagram of those three (materialism, naturalism, and atheism), but I don’t see any one of them enclosing either of the others. For just a quick example, I don’t see anything definitional that prevents the existence of an atheistic believer in psychic ability. (Or a theistic one, for that matter.)

  122. I tend to think of this one in the framework that there is a third option that contains certain members of the religious and the not religious communities.
    That is the people who, regardless of what they say they worship or don’t worship actually believe in themselves as a higher power.

    That’s where you get the religious people who use their supposed virtue as a metaphorical platform from which to look down on those who don’t share it (and you notice, so few people ever do). That’s where you get the atheist folks who use their supposed devotion to reason and logic as a reason to believe their opinions are always correct and rational and thus those of anyone who disagrees are not. Basically any time what someone says they believe or don’t believe is their jumping off point for ultimately believing they are better than others or for erasing the bad in their shitty behavior.

    No matter which tradition you follow, if you’re really worshiping yourself, you’re probably going to be an ass. And it’s certainly not fair to consider those people representative of the faith/notfaith communities they claim to be part of, since regardless of what they say, they’re clearly *following* an entirely different system.

  123. Kat Goodwin writes:

    An atheist has one belief: there is nothing supernatural divine in the universe.

    You make it sound like a somewhat active belief in that case.

    It looks to me like there are at least a couple kinds of atheists, those who don’t believe in God and those who believe there is no God.

    I don’t believe there is an elephant hiding behind the milk in my fridge, so I guess that makes me a non-fridge elephantarian, but there are a thousand other things I don’t believe.

    A family member once encountered a proselytic atheist who went around passing out literature and asking if he’d heard the bad news.

  124. @Mike To which “god” are you referring? Thor? Zeus? White Jesus? There are so many to choose from that it confuses me when someone says god with a capitol G… as if they are talking about a specific entity. You’re right. There are so many things in which to not believe.

  125. I’m amused by Myers’s complaint, because I’ve always found him to be one of those shallow doofus atheists, a prime example of exactly what he’s complaining about. I *hope* he’s a good scientist, because as a writer about religion or philosophy he’s not very good. (He also got on my bad side soon after I first heard of him, by complaining about J K Rowling’s revelation that Dumbledore was gay in pretty much the same terms and for the same reasons that antigay religious types were complaining.)

    I guess I’m too old for the New Atheists. Antony Flew had his blind spots, especially on politics, but I still think his book God and Philosophy (reissued under several different titles) is an excellent demolition of (mostly Christian) theism, and I still agree with his conception of atheism, which he called Stratonician or the presumption of atheism. He argued that the burden of proof lies on the theist, to decide what the word “god” refers to and to give reasons why I should believe that it exists. So, as an atheist, I don’t declare confidently that there is no god; rather, I see no reason to believe in such a being, and I’m waiting for theists to come up with some. I can’t prove that the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus don’t exist either, but if someone tells me I’d better be nice, or Santa will leave coal in my stocking for Christmas, I think it’s fair to expect them to give me some good reason why I should worry.

  126. An atheist doesn’t believe in gods and divine beings and those things related to gods and divine beings (supernatural.) And then there is agnosticism, which is a wide bus that takes up the rest. :)

    Psychic ability has been argued to be possibly real under scientific causes, not supernatural ones, so an atheist believing that non-supernatural psychic ability exists and/or will be proven to exist or developed does definitely happen. Aliens are not supernatural, and some atheists believe in aliens or various beliefs about aliens. There is a faint possibility that our concept of ghosts actual exist on some sort of scientific basis, rather than the divine supernatural, so an atheist believing in ghosts as a likelihood is not contradictory to the one atheism belief.

    If you want to hash things up into 50 Shades of Atheist, you can do that because atheists only share the one belief, and they may have a lot of other beliefs in addition, some of them wacky and some of them interesting and many of them things that other atheists violently disagree with. For instance, Mr. Harris believes that women on average, in a bell curve, are less able to do critical thinking than men and that this is a biological difference based on things like more testosterone with overlap between the genders (just like women on average are shorter than the average man, but some women are taller than most men,) so a few blessed women may be good at it, but far fewer on average than the men, you see. This is not only scientific nonsense, but nonsense that has been routinely disproved by scientific research.

    So yeah, atheism. It’s just one belief. All the other flavors are things that individual people believe in addition to their atheism. Some sets of beliefs/philosophies have names, some don’t, and it’s up to them whether they ever join an organization about any of their beliefs or not.

    In any case, I wish them well with the transition of moving away from anti-feminism, which every area is dealing with. This recent column from Amanda Marcotte about the anti-feminism issue in atheist organizations may be of interest related to Scalzi’s topic: http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/10/is-it-true-that-feminist-concerns-about-sexual-exploitation-are-a-recent-thing-nope/

  127. Kat Goodwin

    Technically an atheist believes there is nothing supernatural including the divine in the universe. So that would make the actual boundary case that Seth was trying to find, an atheist who believes in ghosts or some such. But there is no institution of atheism that can eject such a person from atheism for believing that.

    Technically, but not necessarily in reality. I know atheists who believe in ghosts, elementals and all sorts. It’s not really much use, as docrocketscience says below, defining atheism as naturalism. It simply isn’t so. But like you said, they can’t be ejected for that, though they’ll cop a load of scorn from some.

    Thank you for the info on Dawkins, I agree he’s worse than Harris. Ick.

    You’re welcome (though that seems a weird thing to say after telling someone X was worse than they thought!). Dawkins gets worse the more I learn about him: he’s been trying to silence the women raped by one particular big name atheist and calling their allegations slander. He really is a rape apologist, there’s no two ways about it.

    Mind you, I should really say I know more horrible stuff about him than about Harris, because I’ve read more about him. I know Harris said if he had a choice of eliminating religion or rape from the world, he’d choose religion. I think he and Dawkins are in a bottom-of-the-barrel race.

    On the institutional power bit – yes, people can walk away, but it’s no good talking as if these things are little clubs of some sort. In the US at least, it seems a lot of atheists are pretty isolated (say in the Bible Belt) and that’s going to be quite some sacrifice for them to leave, or be driven out of, whatever organisations there are. Plus, don’t some of the organisations actually employ people, the ones that run the big conferences and so on? They’ve certainly got practical power, along the same line as companies. It’s not a matter of a synod or world-wide political influence/power, it’s more immediate and affecting people’s lives. Silencing or attempting to silence women or PoC, committing or covering for crimes – this is stuff done by very wealthy men, men threatening legal action against their own victims. That’s real power, and it’s backed up by too many of the other men in similar positions, and the mass of misogynistatheist men who threaten and harass those women for speaking out – we’re talking rape threats and death threats here.

    I don’t think we’re quite talking about the same thing, because while I’m not in the atheist movement (I’m not an atheist, for starters) I’ve read a good deal about what’s going on, and I see it more as a systemic, and systematic, threat to the women than just individual men who’re total shitcanoes (definition 2).

    docrocketscience

    For just a quick example, I don’t see anything definitional that prevents the existence of an atheistic believer in psychic ability. (Or a theistic one, for that matter.)

    Yup! My bff and I fit those descriptions. :)

    Mike

    A family member once encountered a proselytic atheist who went around passing out literature and asking if he’d heard the bad news.

    Eww. That’s as obnoxious as the good-news pushers.

    Duncan

    I’m amused by Myers’s complaint, because I’ve always found him to be one of those shallow doofus atheists, a prime example of exactly what he’s complaining about.

    Seriously? The “what he’s complaining about” is rampant misogyny and serial rape, and you’re claiming he’s a prime example?

  128. Do we really need to go into the ideas of gnosticism versus theism, and what an agnostic theist or a gnostic atheist looks like? Are we going to use technical definitions or make them up as we go, and then pretend that everone uses yours?

    non-supernatural psychic ability

    I’m going to apply the philosophy of methodological naturalism and claim, gnostically, that this isn’t a thing. It’s an oxymoron.

  129. Kittehserf:

    On the institutional power bit – yes, people can walk away, but it’s no good talking as if these things are little clubs of some sort. In the US at least, it seems a lot of atheists are pretty isolated (say in the Bible Belt) and that’s going to be quite some sacrifice for them to leave, or be driven out of, whatever organisations there are.

    They may not be little, but they are clubs. Atheist organizations are not a political party, even if some of them are involved in political efforts, nor do they control the Internet. Making new organizations or even harder, having to reform old ones, is not a fun thing or a quick thing. I’m not making light of that; I am talking about the attitude in approaching doing that shift. These men are not fallen idols, because they were never idols. They are men who took advantage of what others gave them and money could get them. It’s important, I think, to remember that’s what they are when you’re trying to dismantle the empire others gave them.

    There are two issues. The first is specific to organizations. An atheist organization may have paid staff, have money in conventions, but it has no more power in the wider world than a cancer charity or a cat lovers club does. Organizations exist because people give them their time and money. They get big because a lot of people give them their time and money. So say you have five men ruling the roost because people offered it to them. And you have say fifty people who also were given positions of power and they support those five men, defend them, punish others for defying them, etc.

    And then you have thousands more who are involved and have a variety of views about the five men. When other options are offered or reform is achieved through people in some organizations, many of those people are going to go towards that. Enough people do that, redirect their money and actually as important, their time, their writings, etc., and the five men’s kingdom shrinks, possibly even to nothing or down to that fifty. They may still have money, and that money may allow them to continue to have organizations where they have power. But it doesn’t stop the new from being formed. And the new should not be building idolization of other leaders or they will simply be repeating the mistakes of the old.

    The second issue is the sexual assault, sexual harassment and discrimination, racial discrimination, etc. The assault involves the government, the law and crime. If the law went after this person for his rape, there’s not much Dawkins can do beyond the cover-ups he’s done and hiring the guy a good lawyer. But the law is not going after him, and that’s part of the screwed up entire society around this issue, from pedophile priests to groping politicians. All of this is systemic discrimination and violence but it’s not unique to atheism organizations. Women receive rape and death threats on the Net whether they are talking about atheism or knitting, as we found out, because they are female and thus they are hated and must be controlled. They receive rape and death threats for publishing anything anywhere. They receive rape and death threats in real life. They are sexually harassed and may be assaulted in every convention, conference or meeting anywhere for anything.

    And one of the main ways we fight this is to say, you do not have the power over me that you are claiming you have. I do not have to respect you. I do not have to listen to you. I am an equal human being, you are wrong and you are harming others and we aren’t going to tolerate it, even if you threaten us. And that’s an incredibly hard thing to do. But at the base of it is the understanding — even if it’s a government making laws, which is way harder — that these people who have been given power and used it to repress don’t actually have power over us as people, that the veneration they receive is false, and what they are able to do can be stopped, that social change is actually possible.

    And it is especially the case where there are voluntary organizations where people are choosing to spend their time and money. And that’s why we have these convulsions going on from the SFWA and comicons to the tech industry and venture capitalism to schools to charities to environmentalists to governments. Dawkins got power not because he’s like a Koch brother. He got power because he was given it by people. Dismantling that power from atheist organizations as people move their time and money away from men like him, involves first understanding, it seems to me, that this power was false and borrowed, not simply ingrained in his person.

    Or to put it another way, atheists who are speaking up about Dawkins et. al. aren’t really speaking about Dawkins. They’re speaking about creating idols and giving them the power to repress people, in this case, people who volunteered to be there, and how that needs to stop. It’s not Dawkins who has to be stopped purely; it’s the people who support him or are worried about criticism of him who need to change. Instead of saying, you know that Dawkins who we all worshiped, we need to stop worshiping him, they need to be/are saying, I feel, you know how you all worshiped Dawkins, we need to stop worshiping people and stop discrimination. Because otherwise somebody equally bad can just replace Dawkins, using the same infrastructure to be given power. You don’t go after just one harasser at a convention, you go after making a sexual harassment policy for the convention and getting everyone to follow it. And that’s based on the idea that no one should be worshiped and thus allowed to harass and rape others as a powerful being. And making that change is really hard and wider than just a convention or organization.

    Doc — Take it up with the science fiction authors. :) There are people who feel that there is scientific evidence that we have now or may be able to develop in the future psychic abilities due to scientific causes. I don’t believe it, but there are atheists who do. Peter Watts has not only used various forms of it in his novels, but he provides appendixes of scientific research — by real scientists, not ghostbusters; he’s a biologist — at the back of his novels to explain where different science concepts he used in the story came from.

  130. Doc: Do we really need to go into the ideas of gnosticism versus theism, and what an agnostic theist or a gnostic atheist looks like?

    Yeah, I think at some point, this atheist-related thread turned into a bit from “Life of Brian”:

    Fuck off! ‘Judean People’s Front’. We’re the People’s Front of Judea! ‘Judean People’s Front’. Wankers!

  131. When I say “organized atheism” I mean that literally. As in, they’re organized. They have meetings, conventions, newsletters, mailing lists, groups, etc. etc. etc. They have big overlaps with the organized skeptics group.

    I think for a while there was an organized athiest splinter group headed by Rebecca Watson or someone like that that was supposed to be organized atheism for people who believed that women were people and not property, but I don’t know much about that. I think they had a cute name.

  132. “Organized Atheism” – a friend of mine helped develop the membership software for Madeline Murray O’Hair’s American Atheists group back in the 70’s. Just for fun, they named the modules of the system after the 12 Apostles. I understand that amused O’Hair a good deal.

  133. NicoleandMaggie:

    I understand. But they’re organized because they are organizations. Organizations have conferences, etc. and their own set of goals which may be all about atheism or may not be. But they aren’t organizing atheism. It’s not organized religions over here and the organized church of atheism over there. I’m not hepping up if people use the term in general, but on this particular issue that Meyers wrote about, there is a critical distinction between reforming atheist organizations and reforming some concept of organized atheism that I think gets lost.

    And the phrase does have a parallel to the phrase organized religion. Atheists organizations don’t speak for atheism, though they may work for civil rights for atheists. Dawkins is not a leading spokesperson for atheism. He is sometimes a spokesperson for some atheist organizations and for himself. There is a very big difference, which of course the media doesn’t care diddly about. But when atheists are talking about discrimination from atheist organizations and famous people who are atheists, describing them as the leader and spokesperson of organized atheism, the person they saw as the great big light, is greatly elevating their titles.

    And that’s the crux of the problem — aggrandizement. These people don’t get into some sort of power in these things purely because they wrote a bestselling book or have money. They get it because people aggrandize them and place them in positions where they can abuse that privilege. They get seen as the inherent grand poo-bah when they really aren’t. So when talking about how these people are problematic in their views and behavior, talking about them as if they are indeed the grand poo-bah just continues the aggrandizement. That’s all I’m saying or suggesting. Because if he’s framed as the grand poo-bah who has to be deposed, he’s still the grand poo-bah.

    But Dawkins was never a grand man. He was just a man. What power he has in an organization rests on those who are doing the organizing letting him have that power, and then he turned around and hurt people with it. So for these organizations, many of them, it’s a time of change. For atheism itself as an idea, it isn’t.

  134. For atheism itself as an idea, it isn’t.

    I think it is, as PZ Myers (not Meyers) and others have said: dictionary atheism, atheism meaning not believing in deities and taking it no further than that, has shown itself to be pretty bloody useless as any sort of social movement. It’s shown it’s about supporting the status quo, not taking one’s alleged scepticism to anything more than religions’ claims or power and status. It’s shown that too many of its big names, the public faces, and far too many of the men supporting them, have no interest whatsoever in looking at the prejudices and bigotries they benefit from. Racism? Misogyny? Homophobia? They’re for showing how bad theists are. When a totes rational atheistdude is indulging in them, no problem.

    It’s not merely a matter of the men with power being the few douchecanoes and everyone else needing to tell them to shove off, or forming their own organisations. The whole thing of Deep Rifts (TM) is that there are too many men supporting this shit and threatening people (women in particular, as always) who speak out.

  135. kitehserf: “atheism meaning not believing in deities and taking it no further than that, has shown itself to be pretty bloody useless as any sort of social movement.”

    Not everything has to be a social movement. If they’re trying to turn lack of belief in deities into a social movement, then maybe that’s where the problem lies.

  136. Kat: “They get it [power] because people aggrandize them and place them in positions where they can abuse that privilege. They get seen as the inherent grand poo-bah when they really aren’t. So when talking about how these people are problematic in their views and behavior, talking about them as if they are indeed the grand poo-bah just continues the aggrandizement. “

    That entire block of text could just as easily be talking about the Pope rather than Dawkins. But the problem is, you don’t see it that way. You’re treating church leaders as if they really are spiritually different from their flock, but Dawkins is just zis guy, you know?

    there is a critical distinction between reforming atheist organizations and reforming some concept of organized atheism

    Again, you treat “the church” as a real thing but “atheism” you insist is not a thing and insist that all there is is people who are atheists.

    It’s all people. “christianity” isn’t a thing, its an idea that people hold. And if the Pope is the grand poo-bah of catholicism, its only because people put him there, not because “catholicism” is a thing and he happens to own that thing. The catholic church might try to tell you that they are your only conduit to God, thay they “own” God as it were, but Luther called bullocks on that attempted “thingification” of god.

    Protestant-ism basically says about Christianity what you are saying about Atheism, that the Pope has no power but what his followers give him.

    “Atheists organizations don’t speak for atheism, though they may work for civil rights for atheists. Dawkins is not a leading spokesperson for atheism.”

    And the Pope doesn’t speak for all christians, He doesn’t even speak for all Catholics. Not even all american catholics follow the Popes’ commands. He speaks for those who follow him.

  137. Institutionally, the Pope does speak for all Catholics when he speaks ex cathedra, as in encyclicals. In practice, Catholics tend to tune in or tune out what the Pope says, but Catholicism is rigidly hierarchical, and to be a Catholic who doesn’t accept the Pope’s interpretation of doctrine is to be a Catholic at odds with his or her religion. You can’t decide to have a different Pope who says things you agree with more. Luther might have called bull on the Catholic Church’s claim, and people who don’t believe that claim can leave the institution as Protestants have done, but if you’re in it, there are authority figures withe institutionalized power who can sanction you and direct other members of the organization to sanction you. There are church laws to which you are subject if you are a Catholic.

    Protestantism said hell no to that, but Protestant churches have their own organizations and powers. Look at what happened when Methodist minister Frank Schaefer officiated at the wedding of his son and another man. The Methodist Church had the power to defrock him and did so. Though he was later reinstated, the experience of being defrocked after 20 years of service was profoundly shocking and painful for him. The shock wasn’t because he had held those leaders to be poobahs and he now had to admit that they weren’t. It was because the institution gave them powers and they had used the powers to defrock him. The church officials who made both those decisions weren’t just guys who people agreed to listen to. They had rules and procedures to which he, as a Methodist minister, was subject.

    It’s not that church leaders are spiritually different from their flocks. It’s that they have power as church leaders that leaders of atheist organizations don’t have. The church *is* a thing to the people who are in it and believe in its doctrines. The people who put the Pope where he is aren’t just a bunch of people–they’re the men who have risen to a certain level over a long period of time in an institution that is made up of levels of authority and legitimized power.

    The President of the United States is a guy who was put there by people too, but like the Pope, he has a position in an institution with rules and procedures that had to be followed for him to get there. People may or may not agree with him or listen to him, but he has power for the duration of his term whether they like it or not and people are subject to the results of his use of that power. Sure, it’s power we agreed to give him by living in this political system. But it is not as easily given or taken away as it would be if he were just some guy that people aggrandized.

    As far as I know, Dawkins did not rise to power in atheism by proceeding through levels of an established hierarchy or because any binding set of rules and procedures led to his becoming an institutionally empowered leader.

  138. BW: Dawkins did not rise to power in atheism by proceeding through levels of an established hierarchy

    But that’s got nothing to do with atheism. That’s just people having different ways of relating to groups/organizations/what have you. Some people want rigid organizations. Some people avoid organizations completely. Its a spectrum from communal to indivdual, from organization to anarcy. But that is a spectrum of being human and atheists could land anywhere on that spectrum, an so could religion(s). It’s NOT a spectrum that has religion on one end (organized) and atheism on the other end (no organization at all).

    For example, Kat said: “Atheists organizations don’t speak for atheism,”.

    That makes a huge assumption about what atheism is as on the organization/anarchy spectrum that’s got nothing to do with atheism and everything to do with Kat’s notion of atheism. Atheists could be anywhere on the organized/anarchy spectrum. And on the “organized” end, you actually could have an atheist leader speaking for one form of “atheism the organization”. Just like you could have a Pope speak for one form of christianity, i.e. catholicism.

  139. @kittehserf:

    I don’t think we’re quite talking about the same thing, because while I’m not in the atheist movement (I’m not an atheist, for starters) I’ve read a good deal about what’s going on, and I see it more as a systemic, and systematic, threat to the women than just individual men who’re total shitcanoes.

    I would attribute that to society in general, not the cottage industry of atheist discourse in particular. In my corner of the internet, I regularly see critiques of “bro” culture as being systemic in many fields: gaming, VC funding, sports, STEM, etc. Some of these critiques connect the dots, but many consider each field as having unique properties conducive to misogyny. I don’t. They’re just fractals of a more pervasive phenomenon: misogyny in society. It would be hard to argue that there’s less misogyny among believers than among atheists.

    If you met a man who identified himself as an atheist, how confident would you be in predicting that he harbors with same beliefs on race, religion and gender as Harris or Dawkins? I was a fan of Dawkins since reading The Selfish Gene in the Eighties, but I’ve never been interested in his books on atheism, even though I’ve never believed in God. And I have even less interested in Harris, who I consider a mystic despite his self-proclaimed atheism.

    I’ve always thought of myself as a nonbeliever, not an atheist, even though the latter term is technically applicable, and I accept it to avoid being pedantic. I consider belief in God no different than belief in UFOs, astrology or clairvoyance. That some atheists require 300-page books, lectures or debates to reaffirm their outlook suggests an emotional insecurity that perhaps explains the appeal of tribalism, religious or otherwise. I suspect that most of the atheists who need books and talks for support experienced much more intolerance in religion while growing up than I did, and have a score to settle.

  140. Sorry for the typo on Myers.

    Atheism is not a social movement. It’s not a philosophy of morality or a political ideology. It’s one belief about the substance of existence and the universe. The belief in civil rights, that all humans are equal and should be protected as equal under the law of their countries and in the world, is a different and separate belief. An atheist may not believe in civil rights. Or may believe in some civil rights for some groups and not others, or want civil rights to be limited for some groups, as we’ve also frequently seen on this forum over the years.

    Religious freedom is a social movement in civil rights, but it is not a coherent and united social movement — it’s lots of people and different groups working for the concept of religious freedom under the law. (That concept is a moral and political philosophy.) It is one issue that may or may not interact with other civil rights issues.

    Many atheist organizations are focused on the goal towards protecting the civil right of religious freedom for atheists and sometimes others politically, legally, economically and socially, none of which is part of the belief of atheism itself. So an atheist organization in the U.S. might team up with Jewish organizations and temples to act against activists who want a local government holiday parade to be only a Christmas parade, no Star of David or other nods to the 30-40% of citizens who aren’t Christians whom the government is also supposed to serve without favoritism and discrimination.

    Another atheist organization may, however, be anti-theist and have as their goal to encourage people to leave all organized religion and so not want to team up with Jewish organizations. For other atheists and atheist organizations, that view may be considered intolerant and abhorrent against the concept of religious freedom. A feminist atheist organization can have twin goals of working for religious freedom and women’s rights. These organizations, with their many different goals and people, do not form a coherent and united social movement. It isn’t a church. It isn’t a government. These organizations don’t speak for atheists. Dawkins is not the public face of atheism. There is no such thing as “New Atheism,” though it’s a cute marketing gimmick. (People just love “new.”)

    But as Scalzi says, we are often inclined to try to think in those terms. The media particularly would like a label they can point to and say, there’s atheism. It just doesn’t happen to be factually or even politically accurate. (In fact, they’re rather flummoxed about what to do with the larger group of people who just declare themselves not affiliated with an organized religion, a group certainly not limited to atheists.)

    The problems with anti-women attitudes and actions, the protection of sexual predators within organizations or conventions, is again not unique to atheism organizations. It is across the board from tiddlywinks enthusiasts holding conventions to cancer charity organizations, to major political parties to every single employer on Earth. It’s not a problem of one bad leader of an organization or one prominent speaker. It’s institutionalized and sanctioned in our societies. What are you going to do — appoint a leader of all atheism and he or she will then clean up all atheists of any sexist notions or behaviors they have in our entirely sexist societies? How exactly does that work?

    Instead, what happens is what we’ve been working on for centuries, which is activism for women’s rights, trying to increase legal protection of our equality in countries, standing up to discrimination, speaking out on sexual violence, trying to enact reform in organizations we’re involved in that have anti-rights leaders and creating new organizations and conventions and venues, especially if reform in the old ones is blocked. And that certainly includes speaking up about men like Dawkins, Harris and sexual predators involved in atheist publications or organizations.

    But no atheist organization speaks for me as an atheist. Dawkins doesn’t speak for me. He has no authority over me. He has no authority over the U.S. government. He is not a Pope of atheism, he’s not the king of atheism, etc. He’s a loud-mouthed, aging, upper middle class British professor who has been successful in his field of science and has written some popular non-fiction books. What power he’s abused in what atheist organizations he’s involved with is a matter that has to be dealt with by that organization and those who wish to be involved with it. Walking away and forming new ones is also an option. Sure, they won’t have as much influence at first, but organizations that treat women as human over those that don’t are going to draw people. And those new, feminist atheist organizations with whatever goals they have? They don’t speak for me either.

    And none of what is going on with these organizations has anything to do with atheism as a belief. It has to do with humans being humans and reacting out of the overall culture they are born into. The idea that atheists are supposed to be more enlightened just because they are atheists is an idea that no atheist should ever hold, in my opinion. Now that many of them have found that out, hopefully change can proceed for the organizations they want to be involved with. It’s a problem for everyone. And it doesn’t help the problem to convey on various individuals more power in the world than they actually have.

  141. You can’t decide to have a different Pope who says things you agree with more.

    Ahem…

    Granted, it’s usually ugly, if not bloody, but it does happen.

  142. It has happened, doc, but I don’t think there have been any instances in the past few hundred years, so I didn’t consider it a realistic possibility in the current day.

    I guess if the neocon Catholics get fed up with Francis, they might decide to schism. That could be interestiing–but I don’t think it’s likely. OTOH, I would have bet against someone like Francis getting chosen, so who knows?

  143. Kat: Atheism is not a social movement. It’s not a philosophy of morality or a political ideology.

    pretty much directly contradicts

    Many atheist organizations are focused on the goal towards protecting the civil right of religious freedom for atheists

    That they’re separated by a wall of text doesnt make them contradict each other any less.

    But no atheist organization speaks for me as an atheist.

    But that’s you’re personal choice for your atheism. That’s not a requirement of being an atheist. For some atheists, they feel out of their atheism springs a secular humanism, a morality without dogma, an ideology to live an ethical life. And there are secular humanist organizations, manifestos and what not.

  144. BW, I think that speaks more to Catholicism’s age and declining political influence than to an inherent aspect of the institution.

  145. akibbe02

    ::nods:: All too true about it being part of society in general’s problems, along with all the other bigotries. I think it’s the hypocrisy of so-called sceptics applying their scepticism only to religion, and never, never to their own prejudices or (gasp) irrational beliefs, that’s part of what’s so infuritating and frustrating for people.

    BW

    Not everything has to be a social movement. If they’re trying to turn lack of belief in deities into a social movement, then maybe that’s where the problem lies.

    It’s not at all like that. It’s a pretty straightforward process of thinking, Okay, if I do not believe the things religion told me, shouldn’t I be looking at how many social prejudices are informed by or based on it? Straightforward, but requiring self-examination, which these oh-so-comfortable and smarter-than-everyone-else guys don’t want to do. If you want more detail on that, PZ has plenty of posts covering it on Pharyngula. This is what Atheism + is about: making being an atheist part of something frankly more important.

    Kat Goodwin

    Dawkins is not the public face of atheism.

    Unfortunately, he is. He’s the best-known atheist in the world. And New Atheism – basically in-your-face, sneering anti-theism a la Dawkins – is, or was, a thing, too.

  146. @kittehserf

    I’ve seen a good many people on Pharyngula expressing something similar, at least: that they used to admire Dawkins, that he was influential in forming their views on atheism, or in them feeling able to speak about it – and how utterly disillusioned they are, and what feet of clay Dawkins has proven to have. Not sure if that’s quite what you were aiming at, but it seems similar to me.

    Point taken. I guess I used to be one of those people. I mean, I never really saw much merit is Dawkin’s tome-length anti-religious polemics and his Islamophobia. And the last ten years he’s really made that his full-time occupation. But this is the guy who wrote The Blind Watchmaker. Evolutionary biology isn’t my field (I’m a physicist), but that book made a huge impression on me as a young scientist and I wanted to believe such an eloquent voice for natural selection was, not a saint, but at least a decent human being with a the wisdom of humility. That was some naive wishful thinking on my part. Nowadays I look at Dawkins kind of like how I wanted to scream at Walter White for five seasons of Breaking Bad. Here’s someone with an intellect that could do some real good in the world, and he’s whiling away his years being a colossal petty jerk!

    Basically, yup, I’ve been guilty of exactly the hero worship and demonization of which I’m I criticizing. These days I do try to be a little more objective, but I won’t claim not to sometimes embody the very flaw I’m underlining.

  147. kittehserf: “It’s a pretty straightforward process of thinking, Okay, if I do not believe the things religion told me, shouldn’t I be looking at how many social prejudices are informed by or based on it?”

    It could be that. Or it could be a lot simpler. “I don’t believe in God. Nothing about the whole God thing resonates with me. If I said I believed, I would be lying or faking it, because deep down, I don’t.” It doesn’t have to go beyond that to everything else one has ever believed. For a lot of people, clearly, it does. But that isn’t a prerequisite to not believing in a deity, and not believing in God doesn’t have to lead to wholesale exploration of what one’s family, culture, schools, and other institutions have taught and/or are now teaching. For people with active, questing brains, that might naturally follow. For others, not.

    Similarly, questioning the patriarchal assumptions in Western culture can, but doesn’t have to, lead to questioning one’s spiritual beliefs. Questioning whether marriage is necessary or desirable doesn’t have to lead to questioning capitalism. And so on.

  148. kittehserf: I think it’s the hypocrisy of so-called sceptics applying their scepticism only to religion, and never, never to their own prejudices or (gasp) irrational beliefs, that’s part of what’s so infuriating and frustrating for people.

    I think that highlights the point that the problem isn’t religion versus atheism, but rather something more fundamental about being human. The religious-versus-atheist ordinate seems orthogonal to the great-human-being-versus-asshole ordinate, yet it seems common that people think the fact that they’re (atheist/religious/whatever) automatically makes them a great human being, better than anyone not in their group.

    Which is one of the reasons I’m having a problem with certain statements that say “atheism is this” or “religion is this” when whatever “this” is it’s more a function of being human than of whether you do or do not believe in god.

  149. BW I guess if the neocon Catholics get fed up with Francis, they might decide to schism. That could be interestiing–but I don’t think it’s likely. OTOH, I would have bet against someone like Francis getting chosen, so who knows?

    I take it you’ve never heard of Sedevacantism? There are people who believe the Papal seat has been empty since Pius X. Some of them have chosen their own Popes. Then there are the sedeprivationists, like Mel Gibson, who consider themselves literally more Catholic than the Pope, since they believe the Pope, while still the Pope, is a heretic. I’ve not seen anything about Gibson’s views about Pope Francis, but since he considered JPII and Benedict dangerously liberal and modern, I can only imagine what he thinks about Francis. (Gibson’s father is a full-blown sedevacantist.)

  150. @Greg: Kat’s statements are not contradictory. Try substituting something else: “Writing is not a social movement. Many writer’s organizations are focused on protecting the rights and freedoms of authors.” No contradictions there. Writing is not a writer’s organization, and atheism is not atheist organizations.

  151. Xtfir, if you want to replace “atheism” with “writing”, then replace “religion” with “singing”. Translating kat, she said: “writing does not form a coherent and united singing movement. It isn’t a singing group. It isn’t a singing government. Writers groups don’t speak for writers”

    But singing groups speak for singers? Kat is trying to explain what writers (atheists) are by saying they are NOT like singers (religion), and implicit in her statements are that singers (religious) can be organized (have someone speak for them, etc) but that writers (atheists) cannot organize, form groups that lobby on their behalf, and so on.

    My point is that writing/singing and atheism/religion is orthoganal to the ability to form groups or not form groups. Atheism has no intrinsic attribute that prohibits the formation of atheist groups. To continue you allegory, kat keeps saying that while singers have groups like the RIAA or some such, writers groups like SFWA are not the same, or cannot exist.

  152. This (from Greg): “My point is that writing/singing and atheism/religion is orthoganal to the ability to form groups or not form groups.”

    My mental analogy was chess. You can play chess without being part of the organized chess movement, but you can also be on the chess circuit. The chess circuit has also been known in the past for having some prominent jerks. That has nothing to do with chess itself and everything to do with the organization.

    From comments above, it sounds like there have been other organized atheist groups in the past (the wikipedia article on Madeline Murray O’Hair is really depressing, though she did great work before her brutal murder), but the prominent one these days is the one that Dawkins is a big figure in. There’s nothing stopping other atheist groups from springing up and becoming prominent, they’re just not. Atheists aren’t (necessarily) anarchists or agoraphobes or something that would keep them from organizing.

  153. Was just reading some news and i figured out whats bugging me. Kat keeps talking about atheism as if it cant commit (insert something bad that religious groups do). There is nothing intrinsically special about atheism that will prevent an atheist from doing (insert anything bad that religious groups do). To believe atheism is a special snowflake that makes you intrinsically better than religious people is nothing but bigotry. And the reason i just realized this is from reading some news about one of the most biggotted, I’m a special fucking snowflake because I’m atheist, assholes on tv right now: Bill fucking Maher is an atheist bigot telling everyone he is a BETTER HUMAN BEING because he is atheist and Muslims are intrinsically worse than him, regardless of what they do, say, or behave, for no reason other than the thoughts in their head. Sorry, Maher but youre a raging atheist douchebag, and you are a living example that believing in atheism doesnt prevent you from doing any shitty thing that religious people do.

    Kat is saying atheism is intrinsically diferent from religion. That atheism as implemented by people cannot do things that religion as implemented by people can do. And thats a polite form of anti-religious bigotry. The problem is people, not religion/atheism. And people can use anything as a flag to say their tribe is better than that other tribe. Bill Maher is waving the atheist flag to say he’s better than the best muslim alive, and that makes him a shitty, fucking, atheist, doucehbag.

  154. kittehserf:

    Okay, if I do not believe the things religion told me, shouldn’t I be looking at how many social prejudices are informed by or based on it?

    That’s your set of social beliefs about things; it doesn’t have anything to do with the idea of atheism, which has nothing to do with social prejudices or civil rights, again. (Nor did some type of religion necessarily tell them anything in the first place.) There are numerous religious people who are progressive. Martin Luther King Jr. was, for instance. Religion doesn’t create social prejudices, humans do (sometimes calling them religion.) And there are, again, numerous atheists who are conservatives and conservative libertarians, etc.

    Bill Maher is an anti-theist atheist actor/entertainer with a political talk show who is way more well known than Dawkins in the U.S. His inaccurate rants about Islam are no different than someone like Laura Ingraham’s. Penn Jillette the magician is a better known atheist world wide than Dawkins, whom millions of atheists have never heard of, and he’s a conservative sexist libertarian. Atheistic belief is again not a moral philosophy or political ideology. It’s one belief that the universe doesn’t contain the supernatural divine. It’s a belief that different people hold, not a belief that defines every view in such people’s lives.

    If Myers and others chant that Dawkins is king (which is not accurate,) and he’s awful, so let’s depose him, what’s the point? To elect another imaginary Holy Leader? Another white guy, perhaps, who’s progressive and the writing of women and non-whites writing now can continue to be ignored? Might as well just join a church that has holy leaders then. The social reform that is going on in some atheist organizations is going on across the board in all areas of society. Atheist groups are no different than any other type of group dealing with that issue, and for most of the world’s population and the world’s atheists, they are completely unimportant.

    Scalzi said that humans tend to make hierarchies. It is perhaps more accurate to say that we like to organize things and people, codify, coordinate and simplify so that we can get an easier grasp of information. We like to invent groups as systems, give them labels, assign them various traits, etc. That’s how we end up with so many sub-sub-categories in SFFH.

    But it also is the root of prejudice — to take a group of people and assign to them particular traits and agendas, to look at people who seem exemplary or heroic in groups we like and/or belong to and claim they represent the inherent traits of everyone in the group, and to look at people doing behavior we think bad in groups we don’t like and belong to and declare that to be the inherent traits and ideology of everyone in that group. So blacks are lazy, cause themselves to be poor and have an inherent tendency towards crime, never mind that millions of black people never commit crimes. Feminists are supposedly a movement group who hate men, attack women, etc. “Fake” geek girls are identified as young women in cosplay, actresses and models doing a job, assigned an ideology of fad following and love of sexual torture of straight men, while “good” geek girls are those self-appointed guardians of geekdom decide pass whatever smell test they feel like (usually just outlasting self-appointed guardians of geekdom.) And the #NotAllMen stuff is about the claim that criticism of social discrimination or sexual predators — well that must be the ideology that all men (being in the group of men,) are evil, etc.

    When I had to, for some health conditions some years back, cut out meat except seafood from my diet (semi-vegetarian,) my sister feared that I disapproved of her eating meat. Why? Because some vegetarians do, and therefore that’s what vegetarianism is, apparently. She confused a particular set of beliefs with an action taken by some people (not eating meat,) and turned it into an inherent trait of anyone in that group, rather than treating them — and me — as individuals.

    And that’s what people are doing with atheism and atheist organizations. They are labeling it as a group, giving it various names like movement atheism or New Atheism, trying to assign inherent traits and ideology of the group, usually based on some folk in the group, and basing the organization of that group on the organization of various religious sects with guru leaders because that’s an easier way to deal with the information than accepting that atheism is a belief held by millions of individual and different people who in the majority have nothing to do with each other. It’s certainly easier for media to use, though millions of people aren’t listening to the media either.

    If atheist organizations get reformed to be more progressive — and some of them won’t be — it has nothing to do with them being atheists. It has to do with their own personal beliefs about what’s acceptable to them in a group into which they are willing to put time and money. They have no inherent traits, nor ideology. And they speak for nobody but themselves, even in their political activism. There is no public face of atheism. There are many faces who are atheists and then have their own other views. And that some people want to make Dawkins the public face of all atheists, well, that’s a human trait. Doesn’t have anything to do with reality.

  155. atheism, which has nothing to do with social prejudices or civil rights

    Neither does christianity or catholocism or any other religion. This is not a trait that is innately unique about atheism that makes it different from various religions.

    If Myers and others chant that Dawkins is king (which is not accurate,) and he’s awful, so let’s depose him, what’s the point? … Might as well just join a church that has holy leaders then.

    There is nothing special about atheism that prevents it from having their own version of holy leaders. There is nothing special about religion that requires it must have holy leaders. atheism/religion is orthogonal to the organizational structure people operate within it.

    trying to assign inherent traits and ideology of the group, usually based on some folk in the group, and basing the organization of that group on the organization of various religious sects with guru leaders because that’s an easier way to deal with the information than accepting that atheism is a belief held by millions of individual and different people who in the majority have nothing to do with each other.

    Being christian has no requirement of having anything to do with each other. Beign christian means you believe that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. If you believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, then you are a christian. That is the definiing requirement of being christian. Everything else is people and the organizations they create around christianity (or lack of organizations).

    You speak about a “church that has holy leaders” the way Bill Maher talks about Islam, with one very narrow view of what that religion must mean that excludes a huge swath perfectly valid interpretations of what that religion means.

    Bill Maher will point to the worst parts of the Quran and say that describes all Muslims. But the worst parts of the Christian bible shows God telling christians to commit genocide, and that doesn’t describe all christians.

    The concept of spirtuality is distinct from the various human organizations that people create to pursue their spirituality. Christianity has its spiritual component (The belief that God so loved the world that he gave his son to save it) and there are many different ways humans can create organizations around that spiritual belief, organizations which may help them further pursue their spirituality or may be more a function of personal power, righteousness and what not.

    You keep talking about organized religious groups, such as the Catholic church, without distinguishing it from the spiritual belief that is christianity. Actually, its more like you don’t acknowledge the spiritual component of christianity at all, and all christianity is, is the organizations and hierarchies of power, i.e. people.

    Now that I think about it, you define atheism as the lack of any organization. And likewise, you don’t distinguish any spiritual aspects that are available to atheists.

    You define christianity as a function of its human organization, and you define atheism as its complete lack of human organizational structures. And it seems like you ignore the spiritual component of both. Maybe ignore isnt’ the right word. Maybe its more like you relate to it as if it didn’t exist at all?

    Which would greatly explain some things. Atheism and Christianity are different forms of spirituality and when humans pursue them they may or may not form organizations around them. Spirituality and human organizations are orthoganal to one another.

    And you keep talking as if spiritualty in its entirety doesn’t exist. You define Christianity primarily from its organizational point of view, as being a “church that has holy leaders” where they “speak for others”. And you define atheism as …. not that organizational stuff you see in christianity.

  156. Bill Maher… is way more well known than Dawkins in the U.S.

    More Americans know who Tim Tebow is than who’ve heard of Frank Page.

    What I don’t get is: why are you so intent to speak for all atheists, everywhere, in order to tell everyone that no one speaks for all atheists, everywhere?

  157. DocRocketScience:

    What I don’t get is: why are you so intent to speak for all atheists, everywhere, in order to tell everyone that no one speaks for all atheists, everywhere?

    I’m not speaking for all atheists. I’m making an argument from my own views, and stated a few facts. (But I’m amused that you think I’m automatically in charge of people when I open my mouth.) There is no atheist who speaks for me just because I’m an atheist. There is no atheist who is in charge of all atheism in the world. That’s a fact. So if some atheists involved in atheist organizations are asserting that they speak for me because I’m an atheist, I am stating that this is factually incorrect. So the counter question is, Doc, why are you so eager to insist that somebody speaks for all atheists?

    My points were in relation to claims folks were making:

    1) That Dawkins is the best known atheist in the world. Factually, he isn’t.
    2) That Dawkins is the public face of atheism. Factually, he isn’t.
    3) That atheism is a set of beliefs, instead of one belief, forming a distinct and uniform philosophical ideology. Factually, it isn’t.
    4) That atheist organizations including in the U.S. are united as one cohesive movement. Factually, they are not.
    5) That atheist organizations including in the U.S. lead all atheists and shape what else atheists are allowed to believe in. Factually, they don’t.
    6) That atheism is synonymous with progressive views. Factually, it isn’t.
    7) That atheist writers and activists all must regard Dawkins et. al. as their leaders. Factually, they don’t. (And, for myself, I also don’t think it helps social reform to aggrandize them as such, giving them more power within various organizations that they can abuse.)
    8) That the sexism, sexual predators, racism, etc., that exist in atheist organizations should exist less or not at all because they are atheist organizations. That’s a nice wish, but not having much to do with our societies and social problems we all have. (Which was Scalzi’s point.)

    Atheist writers are free to disagree with my suggestions about aggrandizement and say that no, they accepted Dawkins as a leader of their beliefs including atheism and now they’ve got to break from him that way. That makes sense if that’s what they did. They’ve got every right to frame it as they like, whether I agree with them about it or not.

    But declaring Dawkins the leader of all atheists or all atheist organizations is, again, factually incorrect. Is he influential with some groups? Yes. Has he been granted powers in some groups by others? Yes. But factually, it doesn’t make him king of the atheists.

  158. Greg

    The whole thing about being saved suggests that your grasp of the history of Christianity is somewhat tenuous; I would much prefer that Calvin had never existed, but I don’t overlook his concept of predestination. Alas, according to a very entrenched segment of Christianity, believing in Jesus is not going to provide eternal life, no matter how hard someone tries.

    I suspect that Dawkins also believes in predestination, which puts him and Calvin in the same boat; they both perceive themselves as the elect, and they both classify the non-elects as worthless. It is unsurprising that I don’t care for either of them…

  159. Stevie: according to a very entrenched segment of Christianity

    But that’s inter-people relationship. You have your own personal relationship with God that is completely your choice. The Bible, the popes, Calvin, Augustine, Luther, and others can all be spiritual guides for you, but YOU have to find god for yourself.

    It’s sometimes said that all the different religions in the world are but different paths up the same mountain. The thing is that atheists have their own paths up that mountain, which might show up as a form of Taoism or Zen Buddhism. But Zen masters can’t give you enlightenment, nor can they take it away, they can only describe the path they took and maybe tell you to look out for that ice crevice over there, and hope you can find satori. You have to actually climb that mountain yourself.

    The pope can’t give you your christian faith, nor can he take it away, he can only make you a member of his church or excommunicate you from the organization.

    All Kat seems willing to recognize is membership to a church/excommunication from the church.

    This is commonly the view of an absolute pure materialist: a denial that the whole of the mountain even exists, and that all the people trying to scale it are wasting their time. Satori isn’t a thing, but it can be a great spiritual awakening for some. One famous koan goes “what is satori? Six pounds of flax.” which I think highlights the trap of seeing the spiritual only through the lens of materialism. It becomes a kind of absurdity.

    Your christian faith is not something you carry around in your pocket, its a function of your personal relationshp with God. No one can give that to you. No one can take it away. Because it isn’t a THING. People can make you members of their religious organization or kick you out, but that’s not the spiritual aspect.

    To continue the analogy where the mountain is spiritual enlightenment, religious organizations and religious leaders are Sherpas.

    The spiritual world is the mountain, sherpas can guide you, but you have to actually climb it if you want to get to the top.

    Based on what Kat keeps saying about it, it’s like she cant see the mountain, and but sees all the religious people with sherpas and mistakes “people with sherpas” for the mountain. And then goes on to define atheism as “people with no sherpas”. But that definition of religion and atheism is missing the whole fricken mountain.

    And it could be that she’s speaking her spiritual truth, which is that she doesn’t have or want or need any spiritual relationship with the eternal, but that isn’t true for everyone. It’s not true for religious people and it isn’t true for all atheists either.

  160. So the counter question is, Doc, why are you so eager to insist that somebody speaks for all atheists?

    “I know you are, but what am I”?

  161. Greg
    It’s very late over here so I must leave responding to you till tomorrow; I really hope that we are not at the 14 day cutoff point…

  162. Kat: “But declaring Dawkins the leader of all atheists or all atheist organizations is, again, factually incorrect”

    Factually incorrect, but also a strawman and missing the point. You keep hiding behind the notion of “all”. The fact is that SOME atheists do/did in fact use Dawkins as their sherpa, their spiritual leader to embrace their atheism back when there were few leaders.

    The counterpoint to this is nobody speaks for ALL in any religion. There are organizations and leaders can speak for their members, but no leader can prevent a nonmember of their organization from having a spiritual relationship with god. The spiritual reallm is entirely personal. The religious piece is other people and organizations and such.

    A person can be atheist and have a spiritual leader or go it entirely alone. But so too can a christian have a spiritual leader or go it alone.

  163. Greg

    I live about 10 minutes walk from Smithfield where people, Protestant and Catholic, were burned at the stake for failing to believe the right things.

    I was in Athens this summer, where Socrates was condemned to the cup of hemlock for failing to believe the right things; I was in Paris where thousands went to the guillotine during the Cult of Reason for failing to believe the right things.

    Dispensing with human history is how Myers conned himself in the first place; I have no intention of following in his footsteps. During the past year I have travelled in Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, Central America, and South America, and everywhere I have gone people are people.

    Many of them have exceedingly long memories; every guide from the south of Turkey to Georgia on the Black Sea ensures that the Sack of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade is not forgotten.

    For that matter, every fort built by the Genoese ensures that Dragut Rais is not forgotten, though Cosimo de Medici’s attempt at renaming Portoferraio Cosmopolis didn’t stick, notwithstanding the magnificent fortress he built there, which Dragut himself declared to be impregnable.

    People are, after all, people and not even the Medici could alter that. I think that perhaps you have lost sight of the forest for the trees; you are attempting to formulate a general theory from an essentially insular perspective. Myers did as well, which is why he came unstuck…

  164. Stevie: But it’s not that spirituality has a unique weakness that makes it susceptible to brute force. Every human achievement that lifts us above the caveman lizard brain could be brought down by that very same caveman brain. Freedom of religion? Sure. But also completely non-spiritual concepts like democracy, gender equality, gay rights, the simple right to live. education. free speech. the right to dissent. You name any societal achievement and thugs can destroy it if allowed to.

    But just because a band of thugs can put someone like Socrates to death is not an argument that the ideas that Socrates argued for were any less real. Spirituality isn’t less real simply because shitheads can burn people at the stake. The ideas that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. strived for didn’t cease to exist when he was assassinated. And it isn’t “insular” to talk about those ideals as if they’re real.

    You’re making what is fundamentally a materialist argument because you’re defining what is real based to be that which survives brute force, and anything that doesn’t is not real. Ideas in that approach become mere ghosts in the machine. Can shitheads destroy important things? Sure. That’s why its important to talk about shitheads, like this original post is doing, who might be damaging some important idea. But one needs to distinguish the shithead from the important idea. Not conflate them into one, or focus so much on the shithead that they become the only thing real and everything is just spirits in the material world.

    Lastly, one thing I’d say about history is that we’ve got about 10,000 years of recorded history of lizard-brains running amok, and only a handful of centuries, scattered here and there, for when we rise above that.

  165. Ya know, I rather like ‘Not the Reddit Chris S.’ and Mr Teufel’s interpretation of Shitcanoe as a portmanteau of ‘shit’ and ‘volcano’.

    Shitcano …. really quite… um …. expressive.

  166. Greg

    I didn’t suggest that spirituality has a unique weakness, I’m not defining reality and I’m not making a materialist argument. You appear to be talking to someone other than me, with my name tacked on the top.

    What I have done is pointed out that patterns of behaviour can be seen over and over again in recorded history, if you bother to read it, and, to quote Santayana:

    ‘those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’

    Socrates chose to die; I appreciate that you are emotionally engaged in this discussion but characterising the jury who condemned Socrates for impiety as thugs really doesn’t get us very far, since they weren’t thugs.

    Considering why Socrates chose to die might be more fruitful, just as considering his influence on Plato, and in turn Plato’s pupil Alexander the Great, may give us some insights into the way in which our world has been shaped.

    Robespierre was not a thug either; he was an articulate and educated man who started out as an opponent of the death penalty and became a principal exponent of the Reign of Terror in which people were denounced and executed without trial.

    Considering how an articulate and educated man of progressive views may turn into a brutal tyrant might also be fruitful; his ideas influenced others and when his ideas changed he persuaded others to change theirs too.

    It does not appear to have occurred to you that human beings may not neatly fall into the two categories of good people and thugs/shitheads; perhaps it would be helpful if you considered that possibility…

  167. Stevie: What I have done is pointed out that patterns of behaviour can be seen over and over again in recorded history,

    My point was that atheism is just another path up the mountain called “spirituality”, along with paths like “christianity”, “islam”, and “zen” and others. That you must climb the mountain yourself, though you can use other people to possibly help point you in the right direction. That atheism is an idea, the way christianity is an idea. And then there are all sorts of ways that people can organize themselves (or not organize) around an idea. And that ignoring that, and instead defining religion as “organizations that speak for others” and atheism as “not organized and no one speaks for others”, is missing the whole gorram mountain and taking one example of catholicism and trying to extend it to define all religions and what is not a religion.

    All of which goes back to the original post to say that atheists can follow an atheist “leader” even if they aren’t in any kind of formal “atheist organization”.

    Did you have something you disagreed with about that point? Because I thought you did. But now I’m getting the impression maybe you just thought I needed a history lesson about the Sack of Constantinople or something, which I’m not sure how that ties in to my point or anything else I said.

    Are you by chance a history student or professor or something?

  168. Greg

    You are still confusing me with Kat Goodwin; had you actually read my posts you would have noticed that I was responding to your post, following on from my previous observations on John’s essay. Comments on leadership in atheism are entirely absent from my posts, as they are in John’s essay; I have been focusing on the topic at hand.

    And yes, the Sack of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade is relevant to John’s points; the guides who make sure that it is not forgotten are Muslim, Jewish, Greek Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Georgian Christians, atheists, agnostics etc. The destruction and pillaging of the greatest Christian city in the world by Christians, who were supposed to be taking back Jerusalem from its Muslim inhabitants, is the paradigm example of both hypocrisy and the willingness to dispense with religious beliefs when confronted with the opportunity to become mindbogglingly rich, facts which are as relevant today as they were eight centuries ago.

    As John noted, people are people and belonging to a particular group does not automatically make someone a decent human being. You seem unwilling to accept that point but you are also unwilling to actually admit it. Instead you pontificate about mountains and spirituality, as if that could displace the willingness to actually try and understand why people behave in the way they do…

  169. Stevie: You are still confusing me with Kat Goodwin; had you actually read my posts you would have noticed that I was responding to your post

    Hold that thought a sec….

    As John noted, people are people and belonging to a particular group does not automatically make someone a decent human being. You seem unwilling to accept that point but you are also unwilling to actually admit it.

    Wait… what??? scroll up:

    Greg: The religious-versus-atheist ordinate seems orthogonal to the great-human-being-versus-asshole ordinate, yet it seems common that people think the fact that they’re (atheist/religious/whatever) automatically makes them a great human being, better than anyone not in their group.

    Not only did I accept the point, not only did I admit the point, but that’s been pretty much one of the main points I’ve been making from the start.

    I don’t know who you’re confusing me with, and it doesn’t appear that you actually read my posts, so I’m at a complete loss here.

    It’s days like this that I absolutely hate the internet….. oh my head….

  170. Greg

    Touché!

    I must apologise for my distraction; I was wrestling with my iPad’s refusal to download Hawk. I knew I shouldn’t have downloaded the new operating system when I did it but I did, and it now refuses to do all sorts of things that I need it to do.

    That also demonstrates my all too human failings…

  171. is ok. It just reminds me that the internet is a lousy communication channel for certain kinds of discussions.

    btw, are you a history prof?

  172. Greg

    As you can probably tell I’ve done postgraduate historical research but I’m not a prof; I doubt that I would enjoy the job!

    And yes, the Internet isn’t good for certain kinds of discussions; we lack the feedback of personal interaction and are thus blinded to the many clues we pick up when we are physically present…

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