Sunday, April 23, 2006

I'm a Secular Whackjob!

Update: Go to The Neural Gourmet and Science and Politics for a list of links to people writing about this story.

As if I didn't have enough problems, I just found out that I'm the equivalent of a religious fundamentalist.

I am an atheist. According to Melinda Barton, this means that I'm a dangerous extremist. I must be stopped.

Why face off with the atheist whackjobs? Because extremism is extremism is extremism. No rational movement dedicated to intellectual courage and honesty should maintain a relationship with those for whom intellectual laziness, dishonesty, and cowardice are a way of life. Doing what must be done to insure the integrity of the left will require identifying our extremists, countering their mythologies, and acknowledging the dangers they pose to a truly liberal society.

I've tried to take a live-and-let-live approach to religion. You have the right to believe in whom- or whatever you wish. This also includes the right to not believe in any deity. I will not try to interfere with your beliefs. If your religious practice harms others, then I will fight it. Remember, beliefs and behaviors are two separate things. Bottom line: I respect your right to determine what you believe, period. In return, I expect you to extend the same consideration to me.

There are three things that make me angry about religion. When these happen, I gear up to fight.

1. Evangelists show up at my door to convert me to their religion. When I politely state that I'm an atheist, the preaching stops, but then they ask if I know what hell will be like. (Yes, this conversation is hell.)

2. When people insist that only religious people are moral. Morality exists outside of religion.

3. When people try insert religion into the U.S. government. This should make every single one of us shake with fear. Just briefly thinking about this issue reveals that, oops, your religion might not be the religion selected by the state. Then you're in a world of hurt.

I'm used to right-wing fundamentalists trashing atheists. Saying atheists are evil pales in comparison to some of the things they've said. But when "liberals" start attacking atheists, I am really at a loss. There aren't many atheists, so Melinda Barton says we're not much of a threat-yet. I guess she feels comfortable further marginalizing such a small group of people.

Barton's piece now has an editor's note up pointing out that Barton distinguished between "all atheists" and "extremist atheists". It appears the editors are being as hateful as Barton is. Take any marginalized group, and think of conversations where people tut-tut about the "good" members of that group. They're exceptions to the rule, and they show how vile the rest of the group is. That bit of cognitive acrobatics applies to this article.

At any rate, I fit the definition of the extremist atheist Barton attacked. So to the editors at The Raw Story: cut the crap. You supported bigotry by publishing the piece. Then you endorsed that bigotry by dismissing criticims of the piece as being the result of lazy reading. Why not consider that the objections have merit? Hey, Barton said atheists were intellectually lazy. Sounds like Barton and The Raw Story are a perfect match.


neuralgourmet said...

Hi spotted-e!

What she's really saying is give us your money, vote for our candidates but for heaven's sake will you just sit down and shut up already? And be good little children and don't complain when we have our liberal theocracy.

Shut up Wesley said...

Hi, Secular Whackjob,

I must be stopped too!

What a way to start your morning off, reading intolerant drivel from a tabloid rag that pretends it's a voice for the left.

It's Raw Story's baby, they published it, they stand by it, they'd better be ready to pay for it.

Ellery Schempp said...

Barton's piece is extremely disappointing. In her hierarchy of 'good, acceptable, bad, worse, and worser' atheists, I wonder where she would place my role in the US SC case "Abington vs. Schempp"? Is this OK because it was about stopping devotional Bible-reading in public schools under the authority of the government? Or is it pretty bad because it insists that the schools are to be secular--that is, neutral, neither fostering organized religion nor hindering personal religious beliefs. Like so many evangelical Christians who are convinced that secular means a "war on Christians", Barton seems to feel there is a "war on spirituality" (whatever that actually is). Osama bin Laden believes there is a "war on Islam."

Barton repeats, "without regard for the thought process," old notions that atheists are somehow "negative." And implies that atheists are unable to recognize beauty, love, ethical and moral concerns, sociability, and commitment to larger values, and does so because we love the cababilities of our brains to appreciate evidence and rational, consistent, loveable views of the world.

If there is a "war on belief" going on, it is certainly "a war on atheists". From the 5000 or so letters we received back in 1963, it was clear that the most despised group in America are atheists. I knew Madalyn Murray--and I know how she was hounded. It is very sad to me that 43 years later, Barton wants to stir up antipathy toward secularists in order to assure that "faith-believers" are not put upon by atheists.

I wonder, too, how Barton regards faith beliefs in psychics, astrology, UFOs, dowsing, faith healing, appearances of the Virgin Mary--even on cheese sandwiches!--stone statues that burst into tears, in exorcism, ghosts, prayer, Loch Ness and other lake monsters, life after death, crop circles, body meridians, laying on of hands, foot-ology, raptures, tarot cards, Nostradamus, book of Revelation, red heifers appearing in Israel, alien abductions, homeopathy, feng shui, magnetic bracelets, secret codes in the Bible, astral projections, mental telepathy, ESP, clairvoyance, spirit photography, telekinetic powers, full trance mediums to connect with the dearly departed--all stuff related to supernaturalisms. The list of irrational nonsense is endless. Atheism and skepticism go hand in hand.

spotted elephant said...

As disgusting as the article is, I find it very reassuring that the response from atheists (and those who support freedom of and from religion) has been so swift, so intelligent, and so public.

Of course it would be better if this sort of garbage didn't exist, but it helps me to know that other atheists step up to the plate.

Madame DeBarge said...

What I notice, after I read it through and simmer on it for a moment, is that she hasn't really NAMED any of these whack jobs.
I wonder where she came about them? Did some rogue atheists knock on her door and try to convert her?

P.S.-sister, it ain't that hard to convert to Judaism.

RedDragon said...

'And implies that atheists are unable to recognize beauty, love, ethical and moral concerns, sociability, and commitment to larger values,'

I don't recall any large scale wars or atrocities done in the name of 'secularism'. Oh yeah, and I'm a dangerous extremist atheist too.

RedDragon said...

Check this out for statistics on atheism globally:

Come over to the UK, we got all the secularists and atheists here :)

Although actually the article is kind of scary, like the guy at the bottom of the page implying that religion should be compulsory...

spotted elephant said...

Madame-She tried to be careful in saying it wasn't all atheists, but you're right. She never does pin down who it is. If we're such a problem, she should be able to do that.

Reddragon, Come on now. Remember the Crusades? (oops) The Spanish Inquisition? Err, never mind.

Thanks for the link-I will be checking it out soon. I often wonder what it would be like to live in a country where religious zealots didn't hold sway. I hear it's pretty nice. :)

spotted elephant said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
AdNihilo said...

See, there's your problem. You try to take a 'live and let live' approach to religious adherents. Normally to 'live and let live' is fine in a genuine democratic society. However since we don't live in one, it is really an act of intellectual cowardice in regards to denouncing religion. Barton illustrates how traits of intolerance and bigotry are not only inherent to all religous adherents, but needed for indocrinaton and continued adherence to their religious dogma.

To tolerate the faith-based mythological lies from any of the primary monotheistic religions, regardless if Judaism, Christianity or Islam, is to tolerate the intolerant. To tolerate their intolerable faith-based religions is to tolerate the most singularly destructive force in the history of civilization.

The elimination of religion is an imperative for humanity to move forward rather than remain ‘as is’, or regress to the medieval dark ages in America’s case.

I linked you to my own 'rebuttal' to Barton's whack attack on atheists here

Austin Cline said...

She hasn't "named" any of the "atheist whackjobs," but she did define what an "atheist whackjob" is: atheists who "disbelieve all religious and spiritual claims."

That's most atheists in America. It's not all atheists, so she's right in saying that she's not talking about all atheists, but she is ultimately talking about most.

Hi, Ellery!

Aishwarya said...

Good grief.

spotted elephant said...

"While many religious people are intolerant, not all are."

That's not true. The most zealous believers are the loudest of course, but not all religious people are intolerant. I will denounce all efforts to install a theocracy in this country, but I will not denounce others' beliefs. The intolerance is the root problem. If people become flexible enough to live alongside others who are different, without trying to change them, then great progress can be made.

The focus must be on behavior.

Austin-That's exactly what I thought. Who are all of these other atheists who don't "disbelieve all religious and spiritual claims."? But I don't want to try to find logic in anything she wrote in that piece.

hexyhex said...

The Barna poll STILL indicates that the characteristic most likely to prevent someone being elected President of the USA is atheism. People have consistantly voted (for decades, now!) that they'd rather elect a person whose defining characteristic was their homosexuality, their faith (Mormon, Jewish, Catholic), or their race. The Atheist comes in at the bottom of the leader board.

RedDragon said...

I wish it were possible for everyone to be flexible, SE. How much easier life would be. Maybe more focus in schools on other cultures?

manxome said...

SE, I first read this a few days ago. I've read about 200 of the comments on the article. I've read PZs and Austin's and a dozen other rebuttals, and I've read the "apology" and defensive editor's constantly edited, weak excuses for being a craptastic editor.

Excuse the language that follows. I've been sitting on this and stewing over it for 2 days and in the end, it's the only way I can address it and relieve myself of the throbbing in my head that is the result of trying to translate the untranslatable.

I still can't make heads or tails of that whole diatribe enough to address it. There is simply so much crap in there, you cannot ever get to the root of what she might actually mean. You still end up with drivel. Why? SHE doesn't know what she means. The cool part is that it's forever defensible, as in "it could mean so many things, as long as it's vague and incomprehensible, I can defend with more vague incomprehensibility." Wheee!

One very tiny example, out of a number to huge to count, is that she at one point refers the atheism as a belief, and a few paragraphs later says that atheism is not a belief.

She cannot bring herself to deirectly define what she is attacking. "Atheist whackjobs" are the extreme left.

Then they are intellectually lazy, dishonest, and cowardly.

No, wait! NOW she's going to define atheist whackjob, like she didn't already do that in some form... by redefining secular as secular atheist. Because for the purposes of the article, she ends up using "secular" all of two times. Everything else is atheist. Who usually end up being secular.

Oh, here's another one! They (those atheist extremists, who are whackjobs) are special sorts! They latch on to outrageous claims to support atheism (except that atheism rejects outrageous claims) and reject religion (whch is full of them)! In other words, special extremist atheists are... atheists! And atheism is a belief! Except, it's not!

In all seriousness, if I were to document all the illogic, straw men, fallacies, ridiculous definitions, hypocrisy, and circular get nowhere mumbo-jumbo in this piece, it would take a freakin' month. And reveal nothing of substance. And not my job.

If she were by standard definition a journalist (as she claims HER job is) and not some damn twisted redefinition a 'journalist' in the mess that is her head; if she were not so obviously biased (but of course claims not to be, but lacks the evidence to back that up like every damn thing else), then she would have been able to make some damn sense. Somewhere.

That editor twit is no editor. She is no journalist. She is no progressive. I realize marginalizing the "special interests" is what all the kewl kids on the 'left' are doing these days so they can attract bigots that the right represents so well, but no progressive sells out other people, or the very root of what they claim is their ideology, to get votes.

And I certainly do not sell myself out for supporting such shit.

My "do not read this claptrap" list keeps getting bigger. There should be an anti-blogroll for that.

spotted elephant said...

Hexy-To say that Americans would rather elect a queer person rather than an atheist-it just boggles the mind. Homophobia is alive and well here, so that just goes to show how ingrained religion is in this country.

Reddragon-Absolutely! If we could start with kids and teach them that their perspective is just one of many, not only would it lead to greater tolerance, but it would help cognitive development too. It's natural for humans to think their experience is "how the world is", but that's why we have education and books, right?

Manxome-*Simply claps for all the points you made.*

"no progressive sells out other people, or the very root of what they claim is their ideology, to get votes."

Perfectly stated. That's why this is so disgusting. Having "leftists" attack atheists is just unacceptable. They'd better reclassify themselves as being anything other than progressive. The piece made me furious, but the cowardly response of the editors was really over the top, and IMO, worse.

manxome said...

SE, the two days I've been trying to say something about that thing has felt like two weeks. Every time I'd begin to break it down, I'd end up with a convoluted mess. I don't like to write a convoluted mess if I can help it, and damn well wouldn't call myself a journalist if I did. Damn, journalism is supposed to be writing with clarity. Even as opinion, it should still have that quality. I blame the internets!

People like Fred Phelps have loads of clarity. And are "whackjobs". Because of the clarity, it takes little energy and intellect to see it for what it is. The author herself is "intellectually lazy, cowardly, and dishonest", vague as hell, and because of it is even more dangerous than Phelps types because if nothing else is encouraged in this society, it's intellectual laziness. Makes for good lemmings who will fall for all kinds of crap. Then you have the editor, who, I agree, is worse than she is because his very job is to keep writers crappy 'journalism' from making it through, and suck it up and take the heat when the shit hits the fan without acting like someone just called him a doody-head on the playground.

Grr, arrgh, and aieeee!

I have a problem with definitions and adhereing to them partly because political ones change at a whim. Democrat practically means moderate republican any more. My core values don't shift like that. I said toodles to that quite a few years ago. Their labels are nothing without solid meaning, and my allegiance is not assumed to be with any of them. My values are worth more than that!

It's all so rant worthy and it's hard not to go off!

spotted elephant said...

It is hard not to go off. "Liberal" has been tarnished by right-wingers, but as you said, "democrat" has been hurt by left-wingers as well.

I'm now a green, but I don't know how long until they piss me off beyond repair. Sigh.