A kvetch about a pro-atheism piece

I should be elated that a pro-atheism piece was published last week in a major newspaper. The author was Cindy Hoedel, the paper was The Kansas City Star—as I recall, that’s the paper where Ernest Hemingway got his start—and her piece was called “Let 2014 be the year we start accepting atheists.” Well, that’s great.  But I’m going to kvetch a bit about it, maybe because I’m cranky today and also, after lunch, must make my way downtown through the frigid weather to get my fangs cleaned at the dentist. It’ll be frostbite for sure.

I guess I’m the opposite of those atheists who criticize New Atheists for being too strident: my beef is usually that people are too accommodating to faith, and not strident enough. To each his own, but as a secular Jew and a scientist I have no choice but to kvetch. And I’ll kvetch about both the ideas and the prose.

First, the good things about Hoedel’s piece:

1. It’s pro-atheist. She declares herself an unrepentant nonbeliever in a major paper and ends by saying “it’s time that atheists are accorded the same respect as Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Christians.” (I just thought of another beef, though. We should get more respect than the religious because we’ve rejected superstition and embraced rationality. Why should someone be afforded any respect simply because they’re religious?)

2. She properly calls out Oprah Winfrey who, interviewing atheist Diana Nyad after her swim from Cuba to Florida, told the swimmer that because she (Nyad) was “spiritual”, she didn’t count as an atheist. Hoedel shows clearly why that’s offensive:

Winfrey challenged Nyad’s self-proclaimed atheism after Nyad described having feelings of wonder and awe, saying: “Well, I don’t call you an atheist then. I think if you believe in the awe and the wonder and the mystery, that that is what God is. … It’s not a bearded guy in the sky.”

It’s hard to imagine Winfrey remarking to a guest who proclaimed herself gay, “Well, I don’t call you gay then.” That would be rude. But to tell an atheist she isn’t an atheist is OK somehow.

I suppose those points, particularly the first, outweigh the things I don’t like about the article. But I’ll mention them anyway.

1. It’s written poorly. Here’s the beginning, which is discursive and self-indulgent:

I don’t make resolutions, but January always inspires me. There’s something about the bright cold sunshine and the bare trees that reveals things that are hidden in spring, summer and fall.

Also, after the holiday hullabaloo subsides but before the ground yields to a spade, there is an enforced downtime, as a friend describes it, that fosters reflection on societal currents and how I fit in.

As I was hiking recently at Chase State Fishing Lake outside Cottonwood Falls, Kan., marveling at the grandeur of the rugged hills and thousands of geese sunning themselves on an ice-sheeted lake, I thought that in the same way that 2013 saw a tidal shift in attitudes toward gays in America, 2014 portends a wave of acceptance for one of the few remaining groups people feel justified in disrespecting: atheists.

That’s not good writing: unless you want to engage the reader with a relevant story, get to the point! The stuff about the hiking, especially all the details, are irrelevant and distracting. In her piece Hoedel also misspells “Gallup” (as in “Gallup Poll”) twice—as “Gallop”—so it’s not a typo.
And what is a “tidal shift” as opposed to just a “change” or a “big change”? That’s lazy writing, as are the words “sea change,” which always irritate me.  Finally, Hoedel uses the word “fave” when calling out atheists (properly) for their infatuation with Pope Francis (“the new fave of atheists everywhere”). “Fave”? Really? She should have added that many peeps find the new Pope totes adorbs.
2.  Hoedel is rather soft on faith, emphasizing its virtues and not bringing up a single time the reason why many of us oppose it: the inimical effects that religion has on society. Here’s what we call a softball pitch for atheism:

Once at a cocktail party I told someone who asked about my faith that I was a Judeo-Presbyterian-Mennonite-atheist. I love the Jewish emphasis on learning and philanthropy, the live-and-let-live message of the Presbyterian services I occasionally attended as a child and the pacifism and service of Mennonites, but ultimately I think all religions are human inventions. Nothing wrong with that: Humans have created wonderful things. Look at Michaelangelo’s “David” and our Constitution.

I think religion expresses a human striving to live a virtuous, meaningful life. But you can lead a virtuous, meaningful life without religion.

First, “Michelangelo” is misspelled. Where are the editors?

Well, I repeat Steven Weinberg’s quote: “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” And yes, it is wrong for religions to be human inventions, because they pretend that they’re not. Further, the “human” part of religion is often expressed as a retrograde morality that is used to enforce prejudice, divisiveness, and social control.  If you think religion is a human invention, then everyone who disagrees is simply wrong.  Further, religion expresses a lot more than “human striving to live a virtuous, meaningful life”, for “virtuous and meaningful lives” are construed in many faiths as lives that repress women and  gays, as the desire to control the sex lives and reproduction of others, and as the need to not only brainwash children, but terrify them with thoughts of hell.  There’s no mention of any of that in Hoedel’s piece.

3. Hoedel likes atheist churches!

A new church for the Godless called Sunday Assembly has been attracting crowds in 14 U.S. cities, including Dallas, Chicago and Nashville, but not Kansas City. They offer fellowship, social interaction and networking without the religious component. Scientific talks and pop songs replace Scripture and hymns. Their motto is “Live better, help often, wonder more.” What’s wrong with that?

Again we have the trope “what’s wrong with that?” Well, nothing, really, except that I find the idea of such churches repulsive. But of course if it helps others remain firm in their disbelief, more power to them. I just can’t see adopting the trappings of those institutions that we reject, and I don’t see that there’s really a human need for “atheist churches.” The godless Scandinavians get along just fine without them. You won’t find a Swede going to a big building on Sunday to sing Abba songs with his mates. (The thought of “Dancing Queen” as a hymn ties my kishkes in knots.)

4. Hoedel doesn’t like to make waves:

I appreciate [Jeffrey Tayler’s] logic — if it is OK to say you believe in God, it should be OK for me to say I don’t. But some of his suggestions sound confrontational; for example, opting out when invited to join hands and say grace before a meal. I think that’s just silly. I will keep on saying grace with friends and family who enjoy that, and we’ll skip it when they eat at my place.

What? They’re praying! And if you’re an atheist, they should be okay with you just politely refraining to join in, which is, by the way, not confrontational. Why on earth would we pretend to pray when we don’t believe it? Now I’m not going to jump all over an atheist who pretends to pray to avoid offending her host, but I do decry those who say that it’s impolite to not join in.  I used to bow my head at grace, and do all that other stuff, but I won’t do it any more.  Of course, this is a judgment call, for in other ways I do avoid offending the faithful. I will, for example, take off my shoes at a mosque or Hindu temple, which is the only way to visit one without causing a ruckus. To each their own. But it’s not “confrontational” to refuse to join in prayer.

5. Hoedel’s penultimate paragraph seems seriously misguided. Here she refutes the claim given in her prior paragraph that “not believing in God is the same as hating God or even worshipping the devil”:
Not so. Just as gay marriage is not a threat to straight marriage, atheism is not a threat to religion.

Well, she’s right about the first part, but not the second: her comparison is inept.  Atheism constitutes a direct attack on believers because atheists explicitly and publicly reject the tenets accepted by the faithful.  If atheism becomes more prominent, it will, by promulgating doubt and reason, cause more believers to give up their faith. Many (perhaps most) believers recognize this, which is why atheists get so much pushback from the faithful.  On the other hand, an increase in the frequency of gay marriage isn’t going to erode straight marriage, for (as I believe) people’s sexual orientation is something biologically based (i.e., a product of both your genes and your cultural and developmental environment), and heterosexuals won’t suddenly want to marry someone of the same sex if they see others doing so.  Further, Americans are beginning to recognize that gay marriage doesn’t threaten anything. It would behoove Ms. Hoedel to tell the truth here: atheism is a direct threat to religion, and that’s the way it should be.
In general, I guess Hoedel’s article is a good thing, but I couldn’t help putting down my reactions (lack of free will and all. . .).
Kids–get off my lawn!!

104 Comments

  1. francis
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    //

  2. Grania Spingies
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    I award you one (1) Internet in the Rant of the Day category. :-)

  3. gbjames
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Yes, atheism is a threat to religion. How could it not be?

  4. TJR
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Typo alert: in section 4

    “Hindu mosque or temple”

    is surely meant to be

    “mosque or Hindu temple”

  5. Barry Lyons
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Please, kvetch away! Don’t let us stop you.

  6. Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    I love this post! Yes, it is 8 F where I live with snowdrifts; that would make anyone grumpy. :-)

    As far as the “spiritual” part: yes, others have accused me of not being an atheist because I have completed ultra marathons (up to 100 mile footraces) and because I love mathematics.

    Huh? It is almost as if they equate being an atheist with being an unemotional robot.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      Once when it was -20C and I was in the downtown core of a city, I heard people swearing out loud.

      • Posted January 21, 2014 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

        Cursing out loud should be acceptable behavior in bitter cold with a high wind chill factor.

        • Ken Phelps
          Posted January 21, 2014 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

          The part I don’t understand is why going to the dentist isn’t making this a happy day.

          KPdds

      • Posted January 21, 2014 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

        I just can’t imagine how cold that is. The worst I’ve experienced wasn’t even -10 C.

        /@

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted January 21, 2014 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

          Right now it’s -18 C. If it’s windy and -10C it’s worse than a calm -18C. It felt brutally cold on the weekend with the high winds & I think it was only -7C.

          The thing I notice when it gets really cold is it takes forever for it to feel warm in the car. I wear a long down coat on those days!

          • NewEnglandBob
            Posted January 21, 2014 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

            It’s getting cold here too. +19C right now.

            • Posted January 21, 2014 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

              That’s a bit chilly. Personally, I’m bracing myself for tomorrow night when it’s supposed to get all the way down to 7°C. On the other hand, it’s supposed to make it up to 26°C again during the day, so that’s not so bad; just a mild chill, almost enough to take off the jacket (but not the sweater underneath!).

              b&

              • NewEnglandBob
                Posted January 21, 2014 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

                We get back up there on Thursday.

          • Posted January 21, 2014 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

            You people, again with the imaginary negative temperatures! Next thing, y’all’l be explaining how you use phone booths for time travel or some such.

            b&

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted January 21, 2014 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

              Or maybe that those negative numbers are bigger on the inside!

              • Posted January 21, 2014 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

                Now you’re really being improbable!

                Ah, well. At least you’ve got an heart of gold.

                b&

              • Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

                Cup of nice, hot tea, anyone?

                /@

              • Posted January 22, 2014 at 8:22 am | Permalink

                A nice cup of tea would be just loverly. Sadly, all I can seem to get ’round here is something that’s almost, but not completely, unlike tea.

                It is hot, though — I’ll grant you that. Maybe we could start again with the “cup” bit, so there’s not quite so much of a mess?

                Cheers,

                b&

            • Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

              Sorry. 263 K.

              /@

  7. Diana MacPherson
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Ugh that beginning. She probably couldn’t think about how to start and thought that people like to be entertained so that’s what she did. Maybe her editor was all “do this cool intro thing” and she was like, “totes mcgoats!” :D

    You won’t find a Swede going to a big building on Sunday to sing Abba songs with his mates.

    Yes, but that’s only because ABBA songs are hard to sing. Agnetha & Anni-Frid were good vocalists.

    More seriously, that she paints refusing to pray as confrontational is pretty odd to me. It makes me again wonder if women in particular are raised not to make a fuss and this is why we see fewer female atheists (it could even be that they won’t admit to being atheists as this seems confrontational to them). I used to fake pray if I were staying with someone as I felt that I was in their home and didn’t want to make a fuss but then I thought – would they make someone of a different faith pray? Maybe they would. But, it wouldn’t be very nice to do that.

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      She’s never been to a Mamma Mia Sing-a-long party. :p

      /www.youtube.com/watch?v=DGUmXBgPvrg

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      Singing of ABBA songs should only be attempted in the shower.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted January 21, 2014 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

        So you can drown them?

        • Grania Spingies
          Posted January 21, 2014 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

          Hush your mouth, you kill-joy!

    • Amelia Schuler
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

      “More seriously, that she paints refusing to pray as confrontational is pretty odd to me. It makes me again wonder if women in particular are raised not to make a fuss and this is why we see fewer female atheists (it could even be that they won’t admit to being atheists as this seems confrontational to them).”

      For me, it took a poetry jam to put into words your suspicions (and mine) about the insidious way in which women are raised: http://bit.ly/1dTbKMm

      Happily, not all of girls grow up with such models, loving or otherwise. For those of us who do, getting out from under this long shadow is constant work. But I’m getting better at it.

      • Amelia Schuler
        Posted January 22, 2014 at 6:33 am | Permalink

        Late night. I meant poetry slam.

  8. Jesper Both Pedersen
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    But some of his suggestions sound confrontational; for example, opting out when invited to join hands and say grace before a meal. I think that’s just silly. I will keep on saying grace with friends and family who enjoy that, and we’ll skip it when they eat at my place.

    Bah humbug!

    It’s funny how remaining passive during a prayer is seen as confrontational.

    What the heck are you supposed to do?

    • gbjames
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      I’d recommend asking the prayerful ones if it would be OK if everyone would join hands and offer a brief prayer to Satan, too.

      • Jesper Both Pedersen
        Posted January 21, 2014 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

        It only seems fair.

      • darrelle
        Posted January 21, 2014 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

        I’d be up for that.

    • Kevin Alexander
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

      When I hold hands at the table as someone else prays, I’m not holding god’s hands. I’m holding the hands of friends and family. What could be more humanist than that?
      BTW The last time someone asked me to say grace I said:
      ‘Be it ever so humble or ever so fancy, it’s ever so tasty so let’s all thank Nancy’*
      No one’s asked me since.

      *the cook

      • Jesper Both Pedersen
        Posted January 21, 2014 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

        Maybe it stems from my heathenly upbringing and our somewhat godless society, but my alienation and objection towards it isn’t exactly based on refusal to hold hands with friends and family. I’ll happily give ‘em a hug when coming and going.

        But I think it kind of illustrates my point that you might see it that way.

        I thoguht a good host was supposed to make guests feel at home and to me that excludes special rules about table manners.

        I expect them to know how to handle a knife and fork and maybe, if we’re having a good day, some lively conversation will arise.

        That’s pretty much is far as rules in my house goes, but to each his own as they say.

        • Jesper Both Pedersen
          Posted January 21, 2014 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

          *it

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted January 21, 2014 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

          If I have to hold hands & pray, I’m going to say that I don’t like touching others & hands are dirty.

          • Jesper Both Pedersen
            Posted January 21, 2014 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

            :-)

        • Posted January 21, 2014 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

          A lesson my mum impressed upon me while watching an episode of Doctor Who’s “The Talons of Weng-Chiang”: Leela begins to eat with her hands and the host (Jago or Litefoot, I forget which) says something like, “Oh, indeed, why bother with a knife and fork?” and does likewise.

          /@

          • Posted January 21, 2014 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

            Ah, it was Litefoot, and he wasn’t quite so explicit:

            (Litefoot lights a gas lamp.)
            LITEFOOT: Ah, now, let’s see what we have here. Mrs Hudson always leaves me a cold collation.
            (The sideboard is covered in dishes.)
            LITEFOOT: Ham, roast beef, chicken, tongue. Those look like quail, unless I’m much mistaken.
            LEELA: Meat.
            (Leela grabs a large joint of ribs and bites into it.)
            LITEFOOT: Yes, well, perhaps we shouldn’t wait for your friend the Doctor. Help yourself, my dear. Plates on the end of the table. I’ll, er, I’ll just put a log or two on the fire.
            LEELA: It’s good.
            LITEFOOT: Oh, I’m so glad.
            LEELA: Is something wrong?
            LITEFOOT: No, no. Would you care for a knife or a fork?
            (Leela picks up a large carving knife and uses it on the joint.)
            LEELA: It’s a good knife. Aren’t you going to eat?
            LITEFOOT: Yes, yes.
            (He picks up a plate, decides not to embarrass Leela and picks up a leg of lamb with his hands.)
            LITEFOOT: Just going to eat.

            /@

            • Jesper Both Pedersen
              Posted January 21, 2014 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

              As usual, the Doctor delivers. Thanks Ant. :-)

              Btw, also forgot chopsticks….

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted January 21, 2014 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

              That clip was played in one of the many specials that aired for the Doctor Who 50th anniversary.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted January 22, 2014 at 12:16 am | Permalink

                I liked Leela. “Can I kill him now? Please?” Such a refreshing change from the usual wimpy TV sidekick…

          • gbjames
            Posted January 21, 2014 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

            A fine episode.

          • Kevin
            Posted January 21, 2014 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

            Baker was the best.

      • gbjames
        Posted January 21, 2014 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

        Isn’t that kind of like saying “When everyone else is saying a prayer, I’m just saying words”? Isn’t the point of the hand-holding to enhance the prayer? Do they hold hands like that except when praying?

        It is good that you made your point, though, by thanking Nancy.

  9. NewEnglandBob
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    Great post. The email version of it came to me with font size and font type changes in some of the paragraphs. I had not seen that previously.

  10. Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    There are many non-religious choirs and some of them probably in big buildings. People just like to sing.
    Maybe you don’t have them in the US because everybody is religious.

  11. Doug
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    Imagine how Oprah and other believers would react if an atheist said to her, “If you don’t believe in the bearded guy in the sky, I don’t consider you a Christian then. There’s more to religion than awe and wonder and mystery; there also has to be a guy in the sky, with or without a beard.” They’d say “Who in the world are you to decide who is and who isn’t a Christian?” Somehow, though, Oprah gets to decide who is and who isn’t an atheist.
    This is the same issue discussed on this board a few days ago–Oprah’s conception of God bears no resemblance to the God worshiped by most Americans, millions of whom take literally the notion that humans are created in His image. (And that God is a He.) Why don’t the Christians ever go after the Oprahs? You’d think they’d find her remarks blasphemous.

    • darrelle
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      Oprah makes me ever so slightly naeseous. To me she seems like a parasite gorging on society. She seems to fit the following description to a “T”.

      “Parasites reduce host biological fitness by general or specialized pathology, such as parasitic castration and impairment of secondary sex characteristics, to the modification of host behaviour. Parasites increase their fitness by exploiting hosts for resources necessary for their survival, e.g. food, water, heat, habitat, and transmission.” [Wikipedia]

    • Sastra
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

      Imagine how Oprah and other believers would react if an atheist said to her, “If you don’t believe in the bearded guy in the sky, I don’t consider you a Christian then. There’s more to religion than awe and wonder and mystery; there also has to be a guy in the sky, with or without a beard.”

      Well, I can imagine.

      If an atheist were to say such a thing then Oprah and other believers would jump up and down pumping their fists in the air, shouting “WE KNEW IT! We knew it!Haha! Atheists think God is supposed to be an Old Man in the Sky With a Beard.” And then the Sophisticated Theologians would work themselves into a sweaty lather of excitement as they started churning out more and more articles on how “atheists don’t understand God.”

      No, what we should do is wait for Oprah and other believers to do something practical and useful and then tell them “Well, I don’t call you a theist then, you don’t believe in God. I think if you believe in helping people in this world, that’s what humanism is, so that makes you a humanist.”

      Heh.

    • Posted January 22, 2014 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      Ophrah’s a bully.

  12. darrelle
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Jerry, I recommend a nice mug of hot chocolate with a liberal dose of brandy, perhaps even Grand Marnier. Sure to help lift your spirits (uh oh, I mean that figuratively of course) and help ward off the cold.

    • Posted January 21, 2014 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

      How else are the spirits supposed to get in the mug unless he lifts the bottle and pours?

      b&

      • darrelle
        Posted January 21, 2014 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

        What a catch-22. In order for your spirits to be lifted you must first lift the spirits!

        We need a new branch of philosophy to study this problem.

        • NewEnglandBob
          Posted January 21, 2014 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

          There is a branch of philosophy to study this problem. It’s called drunken stupor.

        • Posted January 21, 2014 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

          If you are unable to lift your spirits….drink through a straw.

          • darrelle
            Posted January 21, 2014 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

            Oh boy! That’ll get the old spirits on the rise real quick! Dangerous though.

  13. Andrew B.
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    “Well, nothing, really, except that I find the idea of such churches repulsive. But of course if it helps others remain firm in their disbelief, more power to them. I just can’t see adopting the trappings of those institutions that we reject, and I don’t see that there’s really a human need for “atheist churches.”

    We all know how you feel about others telling you that you’re doing your website all wrong by including posts on cats, food, boots, etc. Maybe you can understand the resentment many of us feel when we’re told that we’re “doing our atheism” wrong.

    As for not seeing a human need for “atheist churches,” if there really were no need, then why would they exist?

    I really don’t get it. Different people have different interests, but atheists are wrong to congregate in church-like buildings because…churches have cooties?

    • gbjames
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

      Well, churches have cooties in this sense…

      One of the critiques of religion is how it uses social coersion to get people to act in certain ways and give up critical thinking. The whole process of losing yourself in a swaying mass of like-thinking folk makes some of us uneasy even when the stuff being swayed-about (so to speak) isn’t religious.

      It is sort of like book clubs where everyone reads the same book and then goes around the room taking turns talking about this or that aspect. It isn’t bible-study, but it has the trappings and flavor of bible-study.

      I know that I myself am ambivalent about atheist churches. I would never belong to one. But I’ve got a lot out of watching Jerry Dewitt preach his story at an FFRF convention. It was quite moving. But… I worry about how it could morph into a kind of political/social/financial exploitation.

      Then I also understand the point about how some people seem to need this kind of thing and if it allows them to escape a religious mind-prison, and that’s a good thing.

      The anxiety arises from wanting to encourage critical thinking and fearing that “churchiness” runs counter to that goal.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted January 21, 2014 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

        “The whole process of losing yourself in a swaying mass of like-thinking folk makes some of us uneasy even when the stuff being swayed-about (so to speak) isn’t religious.”

        I preferred it the way I did it decades ago with Marijuana. You lost yourself, thought it was funny, and got hungry.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted January 21, 2014 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

          I’m so non conformist that if I go to rock concerts and the singer tells the crowd to do something, I won’t do it. I guess I’m missing out on the group experience but I don’t like being told to do as everyone else.

          I bet the Nazis would’ve killed me first. No! I’m not going to your silly rally with your silly outfits. Okay, your outfits are nice but your ideology is repulsive. And some of you have skulls on your caps! Why not a nice animal like a fox?

    • Posted January 21, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      If there were no need for Nazism / Apartheid / Pat Robertson / …, why would any of them exist?

      What part of “more power to them” didn’t you understand?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      Jerry didn’t say others were doing atheism wrong, he said they were welcome to have atheist churches but he doesn’t personally like them. I have to agree with him as I find the idea of going to hang out and sing songs when I could instead be here making remarks on WEIT, well awful.

      I know lots of people who like that kind of thing though – usually they join a Unitarian church and if they want to go to an atheist church, fine but I won’t be there!

      • Posted January 21, 2014 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

        This is my church
        This is where I heal my hurt
        It’s in the world I become
        Content in the hum
        Between voice and drum
        It’s in change
        The poetic justice of cause and effect
        Respect, love, compassion
        This is my church
        This is where I heal my hurt
        For tonight
        God is a DJ blogger person with a website.

        /@

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted January 21, 2014 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

          Ha ha! I’m sure Faithless would enjoy your rendition.

  14. paxton
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    “people’s sexual orientation is something biologically based (i.e., a product of both your genes and your cultural and developmental environment)”,

    Could you explain this? How is the cultural environment “biologically based”? Does this mean that homosexuality (in part at least) is determined by one’s cultural environment?

    • Posted January 21, 2014 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

      One statistic which is interesting and pretty much confirms a genetic basis for gayness is the study relating to identical twins separated at birth. Briefly, where one twin is gay there is approx. a 50% chance that the other will also be gay and not a 5 – 10% chance that would apply if there were no genetic connection. It is not 100% chance that the other twin will be gay because of the action of penetrance, the chance that a particular gene will be expressed. Angelina Jolie had here mastectomy because of the high risk of penetrance attaching to her genetic inheritance.

      Just to spice things up a bit, one theory of gay genetic success was posited by the late John Maynard Smith. He was largely responsible for introducing the mathematical basis of game theory to genetics. Being from an engineering background it was fairly typical of him to use somewhat salty language in describing one famous theory as “the sneaky fucker” strategy. This assumed that not all men who were assumed to be gay were completely gay and hence when the jocks, with no doubt some derision, left them behind to look after house, these “sneaky fuckers” had their wicked way with the females. This strategy is also known as the Woody Allen effect whereby the macho hunters and warriors left the more effeminate males behind, assuming they were not man enough to be attractive to the women. Big mistake! One has to admit, however, that this theory is not exactly going to sit well with a group attempting to gain any moral high ground.

      • David Duncan
        Posted January 22, 2014 at 7:37 am | Permalink

        One theory is that some straight guys act gay to put women at ease, then, after some wine, they get lucky. Alternatively, some women just can’t resist the challenge of “converting” a gay guy.

    • Posted January 21, 2014 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

      Our culture &c. is also an expression of our biology.

      /@

      • paxton
        Posted January 22, 2014 at 7:45 am | Permalink

        Well yes, but our biology is also an expression of our chemistry, etc. But biological systems exhibit properties not reducible to chemistry alone, and similarly cultural systems are not reducible to biology alone. Or is a materialistic, deterministic world, is this an illusion?

        I thought Jerry’s statement: “people’s sexual orientation is something biologically based (i.e., a product of both your genes and your cultural and developmental environment)” was perhaps referring to epigenetic inheritance. What should we think of this study that indicates that a fathers’ diet, bodyweight and health at conception may contribute to obesity in offspring? http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-01/foas-fdb011614.php

        How do these things alter the genetic content of the sperm?

  15. Posted January 21, 2014 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Maybe she was letting herself be inspired by Francis Collins?

    http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/the-strange-case-of-francis-collins

  16. Kevin
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    That was a very pleasant read, thanks Jerry.

    Good Things:
    1. Atheists do deserver more respect.
    2. Down with woo-ers and press-mongers who do not adjust their prerogative of respect for atheists.

    Bad Things:
    3. Atheist churches are embarrassing, sad and repulsive.
    4. Holding hands is for lovers and times of safety, not for prayer.
    5. Theists are scared because atheism is a direct threat. Whoever does not see that does not understand theism.

  17. Sastra
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    Kudos to Cindy Hoedel. I thought she did a fine job in general and unabashed atheism expressed in a mainstream newspaper is a good thing. I think the first few light paragraphs were supposed to establish her in the reader’s mind as ‘someone-like-me’ (likes nature, reflects on life, etc.) Ease into the main point.

    But yeah, it’s rare that I read anything in the media which is written by an atheist explaining atheism and I don’t think “oh, I would not have said that … instead I’d have said this.

    I think religion expresses a human striving to live a virtuous, meaningful life. But you can lead a virtuous, meaningful life without religion.

    I call statements like this “Get ‘Em Nodding” Statements. It’s a tactic which disarms criticism through flattery, thereby nudging an opponent into shifting over in order to live up to the glowing image.

    Basically, you 1.) reduce someone’s viewpoint to its most praiseworthy element; 2.)express admiration for the opponent’s (reduced) belief and thus for the opponent themselves and 3.) point to the same element in YOUR belief system and imply that you’re really on the same side “in the important areas.”

    Depending on how afraid of confrontation the other person was, this sort of disarming friendliness can sometimes get them to minimize or even drop the vital point they should be defending. It’s a power play, a subtle form of manipulation.

    I think a lot of people do the “Get ‘Em Nodding” Tactic without being aware of it. I also think a lot of people fall for it. But I don’t know if the effect lasts very long — it’s such a superficial means of ‘making peace.’

    • Posted January 22, 2014 at 2:42 am | Permalink

      This is not unlike the tactic sales people use that states one should agree first when answering an objection. An example is, “I can see what you mean with point X, but consider Y because…”

      Persuasive writing certainly requires more tact than just getting straight to the point. It’s basic human psychology that establishing common ground with someone builds trust.

    • Posted January 22, 2014 at 2:42 am | Permalink

      This is not unlike the tactic sales people use that states one should agree first when answering an objection. An example is, “I can see what you mean with point X, but consider Y because…”

      Persuasive writing certainly requires more tact than just getting straight to the point. It’s basic human psychology that establishing common ground with someone builds trust.

      • Posted January 22, 2014 at 2:51 am | Permalink

        Repetition also helps.

        /@

        • HaggisForBrains
          Posted January 22, 2014 at 4:28 am | Permalink

          Nice one, Ant – still laughing!

          • Posted January 22, 2014 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

            Yes, indeed it does. It helps drive the point home. :-) (As does a Reply button with no debounce logic.)

  18. stuartcoyle
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, you are certainly grumpy today. This post should have been bracketed in tags. I don’t blame you really.

    Having just gone through root canal surgery myself, I understand why you may be that way. Dentists are terrible. You’d think that the creator would have made our fangs a bit more durable.

    • Ken Phelps
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

      @”Dentists are terrible”

      Kind of like atheists, right?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      Meh. Root canals are easy. I had one then it turned out that my tooth was cracked beneath the gum so I ended up losing the tooth anyway (it is a molar) & I got an implant which involved taking out the tooth, waiting for it to heal, drilling a screw in my jaw then letting that heal then putting the fake tooth on.

      That all turned out pretty well too. I think if it was a front tooth, it would’ve hurt more. My friend has had the worst luck & had failed root canals then had to have implants that hurt as well and got infected.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

      Anti-dentite. :D

  19. Anita
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Noone who believes in superstition should be afforded any special respect. Gib’ noch a’ kvetch!

  20. Sastra
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Just as gay marriage is not a threat to straight marriage, atheism is not a threat to religion.
    Religious freedom means everybody is allowed to believe what they want.

    This was the most problematic part of the article for me — though I may be reading more into it than the writer meant. If you put those two sequential sentences together into one idea, you can figure out WHY atheism is not going to be a threat to religion.

    It’s because trying to change someone’s mind about their religion — telling them they’re wrong — is a violation of “religious freedom.” It’s pure accomodationism, where everyone is supposed to believe what they want without criticism. Which means we’re back to the insistance that the New Atheists are just as bad as fundamentalists. The proper position for an atheist is “I’m an atheist, but I accept your beliefs as right for YOU!”

    Atheism won’t threaten religion if the atheists all agree to never explain why they are atheists, but act instead like it’s just a personal sort of quirk.

    • Posted January 21, 2014 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

      We should attack that, with the tactic you described above: “Well, yes, I’m an atheist, but I’m a firm believer in religious freedom. I’ll vigorously defend your right to believe whatever you want, no matter how irrational it is or how little it comports with reality.”

      /@

    • Posted January 22, 2014 at 10:31 am | Permalink

      That was my biggest problem with The Brites (other than the stupid name) — the ‘we just want to be accepted as a tiny minority & mind our own business, like the gays.’ Damn straight I want to turn more people atheist!

      I don’t go picking fights, but if someone I know makes a profession of faith, I’ll say something like, ‘how do you figure that?’ or ‘that’s silly!’ If it’s a stranger or someone I can’t afford to alienate, I may just reply ‘that’s a comforting thought.’

      But beyond just the push-back to new atheists, I see a general trend in society discouraging any critique of any statement or assertion. This is especially true on Facebook, the Land of Happy Thoughts and Funny Animals.

      • gbjames
        Posted January 22, 2014 at 11:07 am | Permalink

        You obviously haven’t been following my FB posts. ;)

      • Sastra
        Posted January 22, 2014 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

        Agree.

        “It’s better to be nice than right.” I think this is partly the result of people being unclear on the distinction between fact claims and personal preferences — and criticizing an idea and criticizing the person who makes it. Being “confrontational” is supposed to be a sign that there’s something wrong with you. This pretty much throws out the idea that any ideas are worth confronting. It’s all individual style, with no right or wrong, just tolerance of differences.

        I’m also pleased to note that someone else has noted that the Brites are mostly accomodationist in philosophy. The critics of gnu atheism almost never see past the implications of the term and use it as an example of atheist arrogance and in-your-face argument. Ironic, considering.

  21. gmaduck
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Jeez, Jerry. You should did get up on the wrong side of bed this morning.

  22. JBlilie
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Nice posting sir. I’m pretty Hemmingway got started at the Toronto Star.

  23. Posted January 21, 2014 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    I came across this (different source, same sentiment) about Hemingway just the other day:

    Speaking to a reporter from The Kansas City Star in 1940, Ernest Hemingway said, “Those were the best rules I ever learned for the business of writing. I’ve never forgotten them. No man with any talent, who feels and writes truly about the thing he is trying to say, can fail to write well if he abides with them.”

    It seems that the style guide has been abandoned …

    1. Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative.

    /@

  24. Ken Elliott
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Coyne, please don’t feel guilty about, as you put it, kvetching. It’s needed here, in a big way. Yes, her article is positive in many ways, but the rationalizations and apologies in too many places should not be condoned, just as you have once again so brilliantly pointed out.

  25. rose
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    She said the hullabaloo of Christmas,i should of stopped reading right there.Read on a very little bit but mostly stopped.

  26. Posted January 21, 2014 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    Just one thing… I love what you are doing….. but lighten up.

  27. Uncle Ebeneezer
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    I was just discussing the whole hand-holding prayer scenario with some other atheists. Many said they don’t object or make a fuss but simply pretend mumble or look down but stay silent.

    Though I may not always do this, I think a better thing to do is say something along the lines of “no thank you, I’m an atheist, but you all go ahead.” I think it’s important from a messaging perspective for everyone at the table to be reminded that atheists exist and there is nothing wrong with us. It sets an example for other potential atheists (the children perhaps) that you don’t HAVE to join in on prayers just because everyone else is doing that (I mean if the prayer leader said something more specific like “let us all thank Jesus” I have no doubt that Jews/Muslims would politely say No.) And it also sparks a discussion that ultimately gets back to the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about: many highly intelligent people find religion ridiculous on it’s face. It also highlights the fact that the only thing that makes a polite “no thank you” rude is the religious privilege of the faithful and their desire to pressure others to follow the sheep.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 22, 2014 at 12:34 am | Permalink

      But don’t you realise that you, as an atheist, will totally neutralise all the good in their prayers? Worse, you might invert it and cause the opposite to happen! It’s a bit like the presence of a sceptic on spiritualists – it scares away the spirits. They can’t expect their omnipotent god to listen to their prayers if their faith is being vacuumed up by the black hole of your unbelief. :)

    • Posted January 22, 2014 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

      Or perhaps do as I have done on occasion: preempt the usual prayer by offering to do the honors (at Thanksgiving, say) and simply stating what I am thankful for without any religious trimmings.

  28. Posted January 22, 2014 at 3:57 am | Permalink

    I suppose the gentle atheists will be grateful of anyone fighting our side, however weakly.
    Whilst I agree with your rant, perhaps she was on a time barrier?
    Be kind to her, just correct any inaccuricies. Can’t spell this morning, sorry.


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