Observations and inanities by a second-shift assistant supervisor in the Puppy-Grinding division of the Evil Atheist Conspiracy® (our motto: "Sure it's cruel, but think of the jobs!"), your host, Brent Rasmussen.
I just read an interesting article about a biblical scholar who thinks that the first sentence of the bible has been mistranslated.
She claims she has carried out fresh textual analysis that suggests the writers of the great book never intended to suggest that God created the world -- and in fact the Earth was already there when he created humans and animals.
She said she eventually concluded the Hebrew verb "bara", which is used in the first sentence of the book of Genesis, does not mean "to create" but to "spatially separate".
The first sentence should now read "in the beginning God separated the Heaven and the Earth"
God came later and made the earth livable, separating the water from the land and brought light into the darkness.
I wonder if the Ancient Astronaut folks are going to glom on to this tidbit?
Most recent pet peeve: Referring to someone as an "avowed" atheist. Unless there's some special atheist vow out there that you have to take before you can be considered an atheist, there's not a lot of reason to use that label.
Perhaps it's meant more in the context of I vow that I'm an atheist. This doesn't make much sense either. Why would you need to vow that you're an atheist?
"Hey Frank, what religion are you?"
"None. I'm an atheist."
"Really? Huh. Um...really, dude? I don't know..."
"No, seriously, I swear dude!"
Or perhaps it's meant as I'll be an atheist for the rest of my life. This would make a little bit more sense, then. But it seems like you could get away with the cliched "ardent atheist" or "staunch atheist" titles, instead of resorting to this confusing "avowed atheist" label.
It's almost as bad as "fundamentalist atheist" (What fundamentals!?)
That is all. Carry on.
Look, this is what I do these days. I scour the InterTubes with my Pipe Cleaners of Godless Justice, in search of oafish nimrods dissing nonbelievers. My feelers are very sensitive (the pipe cleaners are not capitalized for nothing), and in my quest I can sometimes be suddenly thrown off course, like blowing air horns at a cave of bats; the sonar goes berzerk.
So here's this piece from the Daily Texan. You're already offended, right? It gets better, because it's the newspaper of the University of Texas at Austin. Fantastic. This is going to be fresh meat: a young, intolerant oaf. Should be ripe for some UTI snark. The guy's name is Joshua Riehl, and I'm ready to take him apart.
Sorry, Grandma. I went to an atheist meeting last week.
Paul Flesher is the Director of the Religious Studies Program at the University of Wyoming. He also writes a twice-a-month column called "Religion Today" that he solicits comments for on his heavily-comment-moderated blog, also called "Religion Today".
His last column was called "The Religion Of Atheism", and it was a jumbled mess. First, he made up his own definition of the word "religion":
[Paul Flesher] Definition: A religion is a group of people who join together because they share a belief about the nature of god or gods, in order to encourage each other in that belief.
Then, after the six people who commented on it handed him his own ass, he wrote a new column called "Organized Religion and Everyone Else" in which he backpedals a bit - apparently astonished that the six previous commenters had the temerity, the unmitigated gall to correct his awful definition of religion.
So, he changed it to now read:
[Paul Flesher] "[A] group of people who share a belief about the nature of the existing god(s)."
Here is how I responded:
(Continued after the fold...)
A report from the Pew Forum on belief in evolution is remarkable not only for its parsing of the various faiths' perceptions of evolution, but for what it says about how many atheists/naturalists/brights we actually have in America, and indeed, what it says about its own methods of categorization.
Take a look at their handy little graph (h/t Andrew Sullivan) showing what percentage of each religious group thinks evolution is the best explanation for humanity's origins:
I'm not sure what to make of the completely-unconfirmed-yet-fascinating possibility that arose today that Ted Kaufman, the newly appointed U.S. Senator from Delaware, might be an atheist. (Props to Trina at Examiner.com for beating me to the story...she is quick!) The germ of this idea comes from a New York Times article today in which Kaufman refers to his "way of thinking" as "humanistic."
Characteristically overblowing the word's implication, as is their wont, Gawker sounded the we-might-have-an-atheist-in-our-midst alarm. As has been noted, if Sen. Kaufman is an atheist, and he confirms it, he would be the highest-ranking avowed atheist in American political history. But I wonder if such a confirmation would really do anything to advance atheists in the political realm, rather than simply serve as a brief oddity.
Over the course of the last few days, many writers have congratulated or condemned President Obama for his inclusion of "nonbelievers" in his inaugural address. Though there is disagreement even within like-minded communities as to how important or meaningful the mention was, there seems to be from my anecdotal perspective a fairly universal acknowledgment that part of the reasoning for the shout-out was raw numbers. And that raw, magic number is 16.1 percent.
16.1 comes from the most recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life which sampled over 35,000 adults to see how many people believe what in the United States. Atheists are included in that very sizable number, and according to Pew, it is the fasted growing segment of all! Hooray!
But 16.1 percent of the country are not atheists. This number actually signifies those who are "unaffiliated." That means exactly what it sounds like, and I'm just going to quote the Pew website here to clarify exactly how this breaks down:
Sam Eldridge, a good-old boy blogger for the McCook Daily Gazette of McCook, Nebraska, ably demonstrates many of the strawman misconceptions held by Joe Sixpacks all across this nation.
[link] I don't believe in atheists. There is no credible scientific evidence that any atheist actually exist. I know there are people out there who claim that they do not believe in God, but the evidence says differently. They are really anti-God.
It is like the old 10cc song, "I'm Not In Love." Their constant denials only prove that deep down inside them, they know that God exist. You think that today's so called atheists are the first to shake their fists in the face of a Holy God? Hardly.
Look at the feeble arguments these alleged atheists come up with to explain life and Creation, I mean really, the Big Bang and Darwinism? Even ole Darwin himself admitted his goofy "theory" had gaping holes in it. I can almost hear Darwin saying, "you guys really believed this stuff?"
These folks tells their kids that their Grandpa was a monkey, and they are suppose to be the enlightened ones? Ha! You have to laugh.
You'll have to follow the link and read the whole thing. It is mind-numbingly idiotic.
I used to get all fired up and attempt to correct misconceptions like this, but I have come to the inescapable conclusion that this is akin to trying to bail out an sinking aircraft carrier with a teaspoon.
You know what? Most Americans are comfortably ignorant. They don't fucking care about the truth, or about being corrected in their misconceptions. They would rather guffaw, point and laugh and the "libruls", and get their holy dander up over the nasty, baby-eating, puppy-grinding atheists. In the minds of nearly all of middle Christian America, atheists are the new bogeymen - stalking across the landscape, demanding that all references to God (which we really believe in, but hate), anywhere are banned because they offend us. We diabolically FORCE good, God-fearing Christians to accept the satanic humanist secular Constitution - and there is nothing - NOTHING I tell you! - that they can do about it.
Because after all, they are only the poor, persecuted, helpless majority. Obviously atheists are in charge of everything important in this country. The schools, the state and federal legislatures. All politicians are atheists. All sports figures are atheists. Policemen and soldiers? Atheists.
These anti-God people know, INSIDE, Who is real and who is not real.
They should just give up now before we get really mad and start throwing lightning bolts around or something. *sigh*
Gradually, scepticism of the claims made by one religion was joined by scepticism of all such claims. Incredulity that anybody thought an archangel dictated a book to Mohammed produced a strange contradiction. I found myself still clinging to belief in Christianity. I was trying to believe — though rarely arguing — ‘Well, your guy didn’t hear voices: but I know a man who did.’ This last, shortest and sharpest, phase pulled down the whole thing. In the end Mohammed made me an atheist.
Ed Halliwell on the Guardian's blog makes what I can only assume is an attempt at a kind of charming, I'm-okay-you're-okay détente between believers and atheists in an otherwise benign post about the Buddha's unwillingness to delve into the question of the existence of a supreme being.
I suppose that's all well and good, but in his admiration for the Buddha's disinterest, he woefully mischaracterizes the atheist position:
Part of what makes the argument [over God's existence] so comical is how the concept of "God" onto which atheists project is rarely the same as the one defended by believers.
Whatever images of God some atheists might like to invoke in heated antitheistic rhetoric, the God whose existence is denied is not limited to one or another caricature, but all gods, all supernatural beings, all unknowable, mystical, cosmic consciousnesses. So not only is the concept of God that is refuted the same as the one defended by believers, but every concept of God (that is not merely a shorthand metaphor for what actually is).
I opted not to deal with Andrew Brown's recent incoherent diatribe against the New Atheists on the Guardian's website, mainly for its messy impenetrability and my own sense that life is just too short.
Today, though, Brown posts again to respond to criticisms of the first posting, particularly the charge that he intentionally leaves out the philosophers of the bunch, namely Daniel Dennett (whom he admits he loathes and therefore can't write about objectively) and Sam Harris.
The crime? See for yourself:
A couple of weeks ago, the Pew Forum showed off its latest numbers concerning what Christians are saying about what it takes to get into heaven. I was surprised by one of the statistics: 42 percent of Christians said that atheists could find their way past the pearly gates if they lead a good life.
Now, I know a lot of open-minded Christians who really do believe that Heaven or the afterlife takes all kinds--the old "there are many paths to God" idea. But I have also known some, even very good friends, who despite their affection for me, have told me that my soul is as good as barbecued lest I straighten up and hang with the J.C. Being that the "many paths" philosophy is quite a progressive one, I assumed that a vast majority of Christian Americans fell in the "barbecue" category. Not so, apparently! 42 percent is not a majority, of course, but it's damned closer than I thought atheists could get in the minds of our Christian neighbors.
So what's going on here?
In a discussion about the over-influence of religion in British government on MetaFilter, the predictable give & take about activist atheism got going. I read these threads because they provide another snapshot into the current "temperature" of the debate, but once in a while I come across something either insightful or well stated that I like to share. Two such, this time:
Why is it that people complain about atheists evangelizing, but don't complain about the much more ubiquitous evangelism from the religious?
Because atheists are a threat to religion in a way that religion isn't to atheism.
It's like they have open-sourced morality and are undermining the business model of religion.
posted by srboisvert at 4:34 AM on December 28 [24 favorites]
I really like that idea: atheism is an open-source system, versus an entrenched and closed-source authority.
And then there's this:
A headline from the Las Vegas Sun caught my attention:
Raelians upset about incident at McCarran while awaiting spiritual leader
David Doster writing in the Faith & Values section of the Morganton.com News Herald in North Carolina quotes Chuck Colson from his book "The Faith":
[Chuck Colson] "The gentleman seated next to me greeted me with a blunt warning that he was an atheist. I looked at him for a moment — graying temples, a wise expression, handsomely attired — the very image of a community leader. I told him I was glad to sit next to him because 'I've never really met an atheist.'
As his eyebrows arched, I explained, 'An atheist believes the existence of God can be disproved. So please, tell me how you've done that.'
He looked momentarily uncomfortable, 'Well, perhaps I should say I'm an agnostic.'
'When did you give up studying about God?' I asked.
Now his neck began to redden. He admitted he'd never really tried.
'But an agnostic is one who says he doesn't think God can be known, and you can only be an agnostic if you've tried to know Him and exhausted the search.'
I'm not sure even now what made me so bold, but I added, 'So I would say that while you appear to be a very well-educated person, you've made an unsupportable statement.'
Not surprisingly, he was offended and rather quiet for the rest of the evening.
Ah, yes. You are so very clever, Sensei Colson. You have vanquished the mighty atheist strawman with your incisive, never-before-heard questions and cutting insight into the human psyche.
Colson is a tool, folks. No atheist actually thinks that atheism means "believing the existence of God can be disproved". The very idea is laughable.
Atheism indicates one single thing; the absence of god-belief within a human being. That's all, nothing else.
If the only way apologists can think of to "fight against atheism" is to redefine it into something they can "fight against", then we should stop engaging them. Engaging with them gives credence to their silly strawmen. We have to spend time first explaining why their argument is against a strawman in the first place - but by then they have galloped off into the distance, squawking and screeching like agitated spider monkeys.
Not so S-M-R-T.
The canard below is popping up more and more these days. I know you have all heard it before - probably so many times that you are getting sick of it.
As am I.
It usually goes something like this:
"I believe in God, but I'm not a real religious person. However, it strikes me that the atheists are every bit as strident and absolutist in their views as the fundamentalists! Both sides are faith positions! It takes just as much faith to not believe as it does to believe!"
Blah blah blah.
I see this same thought repeated over and over again every day in blog posts, comments, forum messages, emails, news articles, television programs, and in everyday conversation. I also hear this same "argument" being used by self-identified "agnostics" - those ignorant folks who seem to think that agnosticism is some sort of middle way between atheism and theism that is somehow more morally courageous than those disgusting extremist radicals on both sides of the spectrum. The theological equivalent to a political moderate. (Here's a tip, moron - it's not. If you're an agnostic, then you're still either a theist or an atheist - in addition to being an agnostic. The terms are not fucking replacements for one another.)
The problem that I see is that the atheists, secularists, and scientists that I know don't actually hold the absolutist, "fundamentalist" views that they are accused of holding by those who throw this canard out there all the time. They don't talk like fire and brimstone preachers, and they never, ever claim to be 100% certain that a god doesn't exist.
In other words, the whole damned argument is a big dishonest game of "I know you are, but what am I?" on the part of the folks on the creationist/theist side of the issue. It must be extremely frustrating. So, the theists and creationists are forced to create some sort of faux position for their perceived opponents to hold. They look around and grab onto the worst examples from their own camp - the evangelical fundamentalist wackjobs - then create a whole-cloth strawman "fundamentalist atheist" in their own fevered imaginations - and argue against that instead.
I sympathize, actually. It's tough to argue against someone who simply says "I don't believe you." I mean, what do you say to that? All your arguments boil down to either, "yes you do, darn it!" Or, all too often, "you have to - or my imaginary superfriend will punish you after you die!"
Even the two most commonly-pointed-out examples of this mythical "fundamentalist atheist" - Dr. Richard Dawkins and Dr. PZ Myers - don't come across like this when you really sit down and read through their stuff, or spend a few minutes in conversation with them, or listen to them speak. At their absolute worst, they are "snarky". That is to say, mildy sarcastic. It's all very academic. For a comparison, read anything at all by any of the best-selling conservative authors (you know who I'm talking about - don't pretend that you don't,) then compare their vitriolic screeds against "liberals" with PZ's mockery of creationists on his blog.
Not that this will convince anyone of anything. The atheists, scientists, and secularists already know this - and the theists, creationists, and ignorant masses don't fucking care. All they see and hear is the sound bite. Perception - however far off the mark it is, and in this case it is way off - becomes reality.
And there are just so many of them...
So, is there any hope? I think so, but I think it is going to take a whole lot longer than we'd like for it to take.
Just keep plugging along, saying "I don't believe you." This is all that's really necessary, when you get right down to it.
This post was prompted by the entry That Old Chestnut over at the SGU blog. I started typing a comment for the blog post, but it quickly expanded beyond the scope of just a comment.
I've given the atheism versus agnosticism issue a great deal of thought recently. I think I've hit upon several different problems that I believe cause this confusion: different definitions, different questions, real world applicability, social pressure and pronunciation (didn't expect that one, did you?).
Father Raniero Cantalamessa, writing a "Gospel Commentary for Palm Sunday" in Zenit, the Catholic news service from Rome, Italy, has redefined atheism so that it means, well, theism.
How incredibly convenient!
[link] Jesus on the cross has become an atheist, one without God. There are two forms of atheism: the active or voluntary atheism of those who reject God, and the passive or suffered atheism of those who are rejected (or feel rejected) by God. In both forms there are those who are "without God." The former is an atheism of fault, and the latter is an atheism of suffering and expiation. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, about whom there was much discussion when her personal writings were published, belongs to this latter category.
On the cross Jesus expiated in anticipation all the atheism that exists in the world, not only that of declared atheists, but also that of practical atheists, the atheism of those who live "as if God did not exist," relegating him to the last place in their life. It is "our" atheism, because, in this sense, we are all atheists -- some more, some less -- those who do not care about God. God too is one of the "marginalized" today; he has been pushed to the margins of the lives of the majority of men.
So, as you can see, all atheists really do know that God exists, but they either choose to "reject" Him, or they are going through so much suffering that they lose sight of Him. Mother Theresa's atheism is a good thing, you see? It means that God was heaping on extra punishments and torment for no reason - because she was so saintly and good. Obviously she needed to be tortured her entire life. And this is proof that He exists! Hallelujah!
And God Himself is "marginalized"! The horror! The poor, put-upon, all-powerful Universal Creator of everything is sad because every time He punishes one of his most faithful creatures over the course of years, then refuses to provide any evidence that He actually exists in any real sense, they stop believing in Him. It makes me weep, really.
That means that all of us atheists who make the simple claim that god-belief of any kind is absent within us are delusional liars.
Thank you Father, for your enlightened Palm Sunday commentary in which you attempt to marginalize and demonize 12 to 15% of the world's population. But that seems to be one of the things the Catholic church does best. Create the illusion that a group of fellow human beings are somehow sub-human, then use that perception to get the upper hand politically
Great job! Mission accomplished! I am SO looking forward to your God making me suffer. Maybe I can be as big an atheist/theist as Mother Theresa if He keeps me alive long enough, and I get painfully tortured enough!
Yes! Religion is so great! And Catholicism is the best religion ever!
This is my review of Vox Day's new book called "The Irrational Atheist". I'd like to make some things perfectly clear before I proceed with this review. I am still, and barring some pretty convincing evidence that I find personally credible, will most likely always be an atheist. What I mean by "atheist", as I have written volumes about in the past, is someone in whom god-belief of any kind is absent.
I have lately (within the last few years) come to the conclusion that the entire social and political "atheist movement" is a big, fat exercise in futility. Atheists are not, in any way, shape, or form, a "group" in the same sense that Methodists, Shriners, or Republicans are a group. The atheists who blog and organize activist marches and identify themselves as part of this "atheist movement" group are lying to themselves. There is no "atheist group". Rather, a movement has emerged and become politically active lately that has co-opted the perfectly reasonable descriptive word "atheist" and has twisted its meaning into something that I do not agree with, endorse, or really even recognize any longer. Ellen Johnson telling all of us atheists to "Vote your atheism first..." was the last straw for me. I mean, what in the heck does that even mean? I am not a member of your little club, Ellen.
I have my own opinions, political views, and values. I have my own, personal rationale for being a person in whom god-belief is absent (an atheist). I recognize no "atheist leaders" or spokesmen, and I endorse no one who claims to speak for me, or insinuates that they speak for me in any way.
I speak for myself, and myself alone.
I find it troubling that one of the recent trends in the "atheist blogger" community is to label someone who does not seem to toe the party line as an "appeaser" or as a "concern troll". It's complete crap. I didn't sign a fucking "atheist loyalty oath", and my lack of belief in a god isn't dependent on kowtowing to the self-anointed leaders of this misguided abortion of a political movement, whether or not they exist. If after this review someone uses the "no true Scotsman" fallacy on me in this fashion, they can go fuck themselves. With a jagged stick. Sideways. The political and social issues that concern me - personal liberty, civil liberties, honesty, personal responsibility, fiscal responsibility, freedom, justice, the American Way, all of that, don't require my allegiance to some new political movement. I was concerned with those things before I started calling myself an atheist, and I still am today. Atheism has nothing at all to do with any of that stuff. (See my first paragraph above.) Nether does "theism" for that matter.
I evaluate the books I read, the beliefs I come across, and the philosophies I examine fully, and with an eye towards the facts. I have a highly-sensitive bullshit meter, honed through 20-plus years of discussion, research, study, debate, and arguments with theists (that is, folks in which god-belief of any kind is present.) So, when you read the review below, keep in mind that I was really, really trying hard to find something that I could latch onto and argue intelligently and forcefully against. I was positive that it had to be there. I had my BS meter cranked up to 11 as I read through the book twice in an attempt to sniff out something that I could use - and the damned thing only went off a couple of times, and only when Day was explicitly talking about God and/or Jesus and his personal belief in the Christian mythology.
Shit. Double shit.
Ah, well. I am ethically and morally bound to review TIA honestly, and that is what I will do - regardless of how much it hurts me to do so. Heh. ;)
So, hang on to your hats and join me below the fold.
Mitt Romney appeared on Meet The Press with Tim Russert, and immediately Russert hammered him with the atheist/atheism question. Romney stumbled a bit, but managed not to wedge his foot too firmly in his mouth, I thought.
But what in the heck is this "common bond of humanity" he says that he shares with atheists? Is the Mittster a Humanist now? He's trying too hard. He seems to be trying to be all things to all people, and that's just a recipe for disaster.
Transcript below the fold...