Sorry, but it just doesn’t.
There are more comments in the 1800Flowers.com post than any other on Breaking Spells (and I’m not ashamed to admit the Pharyngula Effect is fun while it lasts) and some of them revolve around the issue of “respecting” religious superstitions and not speaking out about nonsense and irrational ideas in favor of considering the sensibilities of the superstitious themselves.
Bullshit. I’m sorry, but that’s not how it works. You don’t get to hold or have a batshit idea that you’re willing to spread, indoctrinate, or otherwise compell others to agree with and still be protected from rational criticism or even ridicule.
Its no different than if someone held a belief that Elvis was still alive and abducting hillbillies from his UFO and not only expected others to believe it but wanted to enact laws that protected and promoted this ideology as fact. Anyone would be well within their rights to criticize this notion and ridicule would be expected.
A eucharist cracker is just flour and water. Anyone that truly believes that the mere act of consuming a cracker after a magical spell spoken over it becomes the flesh of Christ is not only ignorant and deluded, they’re batshit. Have these people ever stopped to consider that, if true, they would eventually be defecating Christ? Talk about “holy shit.”
Back to the comments.
At least one person here and several on Pharyngula and elsewhere commented that PZ shouldn’t disrespect the religious. And it’s a common response by believers, adherents, apologetics, and even sympathetic non-believers that atheists shouldn’t criticize the beliefs of others. There’s a taboo of even questioning religious doctrine in public. When critics and skeptics do question and criticize, they get accused of being “militant,” “shrill,” a part of an “anti-religious kabal,” etc.
Never is the superstitious person (a.k.a. the irrational believer/adherent) held accountable in such a fashion for criticizing atheism -the complete lack of a god belief. Indeed, religious nuts are completely free to ridicule atheism, protected by the comfort of their numbers. But the large quantity of believers doesn’t imply that religious belief is valid, sound, or cogent. At one time, most people in the world believed the sun revolved around the Earth. Their majority status most assuredly did not make them right.
Religious superstitions are just as open to question, criticism, and ridicule as any other human institution or ideal. Political beliefs, economic beliefs, social beliefs… even the belief in a favorite sports team are all open to debate, criticism, inquiry and ridicule. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have multiple political parties, a need for a prime interest rate, a reason to evaluate historical and anthropological data, or to wear a favorite jersey the day of the big game.
There mere fact that religion takes such a major and significant part in the lives of so many people makes it even more open to question, criticism, inquiry and, yes, even ridicule. If you aren’t willing to accept this, keep your religious superstitions to yourself; keep them private; and be embarassed for your lack of rational and critical thought. For, if you are publicly proud, you must be prepared to be publicly criticized.
I recently read The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever, by Christopher Hitchens -well, most of it. A fair amount I’d already read elsewhere, other bits just didn’t grab me. But I have to say its a treasured bit of reading that will stay handy on my bookshelf. I’ve made fair bit of pencil marks in the margins and left a few little sticky arrows on the pages so I can navigate my way back to the passages they mark at a later date.
It occurred to me that much of what is found in this tome can also be found on the web. In fact, a lot of it can. Of course, you miss a fantastic introduction by Hitchens and the portability factor is nearly completely lost even if you have a laptop with WIFI.
I thought I’d list the table of contents here, linking to the articles, excerpts, and books as they are already found on the internet. The links worked the day I typed this and I offer no warranty or guarantee that they’ll continue to work in the future. For the essays, articles or texts that I didn’t have or couldn’t find a link for, I tried to link to a biography or personal webpage for the writer, usually indicated by the fact that the link is the writer not the title of the work itself.
Pay close attention, also, to the information in brackets. In at least one or two instances it denotes a PDF file.
I’m confident that by browsing some of these links, you’ll purchase a copy of The Portable Atheist. It’s great to have a source for these texts so you can do keyword searches or copy/paste excerpts in blog posts, etc., but there’s no substitution to being able to pick up a book and take it with you.
1. Lucretius, from De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things), Book I Translated by W. Hannaford Brown
2. Omar Khayyam, from Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: A Paraphrase from Several Literal Translations by Richard Le Gallienne
3. Thomas Hobbes, Of Religion, from Leviathan
6. James Boswell, An Account of My Last Interview with David Hume, Esq.
7. Percy Bysshe Shelley, A Refutation of Deism
8. John Stuart Mill, Moral Influences in My Early Youth, from Autobiography
10. George Eliot, Evangelical Teaching
11. Charles Darwin, Autobiography
12. Leslie Stephen, An Agnostic’s Apology
13. Anatole France, Miracle
15. Joseph Conrad, Author’s Note to The Shadow Line
16. Thomas Hardy, God’s Funeral
17. Emma Goldman, The Philosophy of Atheism
18. H.P. Lovecraft, A Letter on Religion
19. Carl Van Doren, Why I Am An Unbeliever
20. H. L. Mencken, Memorial Service
21. Sigmund Freud, From The Future of an Illusion, Translated and edited by James Strachey
22. Albert Einstein, Selected Writings on Religion
23. George Orwell, From A Clergyman’s Daughter
24. John Betjeman, In Westminster Abby
25. Chapman Cohen, Monism and Religion an Old Story
26. Bertrand Russell, An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish
28. Martin Gardner, The Wandering Jew and the Second Coming
29. Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World; The God Hypothesis
30. John Updike, From Roger’s Version
31. J.L. Mackie, Conclusions and Implications, From The Miracle of Theism: Arguments for and against the Existence of God
32. Michael Shermer, Genesis Revisited: A Scientific Creation Story
33. A.J. Ayer, That Undiscovered Country
34. Daniel C. Dennett, Thank Goodness!
35. Charles Templeton, From A Farewell to God, A Personal Word; Questions to Ask Yourself
37. Victor Stenger, From God: the Failed Hypothesis [promo site], Cosmic Evidence
38. Daniel C. Dennett, A Working Definition of Religion, From “Breaking Which Spell?”
39. Elizabeth Anderson, If God is Dead, Is Everything Permitted? [abstract]
40. Penn Jillette, There is No God
41. Ian McEwan, End of the World Blues [PDF]
42. Steven Weinberg, What About God?, From Dreams of a Final Theory
43. Salman Rushdie, “Imagine There’s No Heaven: A Letter to the Six Billionth World Citizen”
44. Ibn Warraq, The Koran; The Totalitarian Nature of Islam
45. Sam Harris, In the Shadow of God, From The End of Faith [excerpts]
46. A.C. Grayling, Can an Atheist Be a Fundamentalist?, From Against All Gods
47. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, How (and Why) I Became an Infidel
I just finished listening to the recent interview D.J. Grothe did with Chris Hedges on Point of Inquiry: I don’t believe in atheists (5/2/08). Grothe is an excellent interviewer and I’m always impressed with his ability to engage a guest with smart questions and dialog, resulting in a podcast that gives the listener a new insights to a guest they may have already listened to time and again. His interviews with Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, James Randy and many others who are already familiar speakers have never failed to provide a fresh perspective.
Having said that, I’d add that his interview with Chris Hedges was the first I’ve listened to that even Grothe seemed a bit frustrated with the guest! Mind you, he still manages it well (far better than I would have) and the result is still an informative interview.
Chris Hedges is the author of I Don’t Believe in Atheists, in which he attempts to outline a case against the “new atheists” (Dawkins, Hithchens, Harris, …), specifically that they are “fundamentalists,” “radicals,” and believers of “utopianism..” To be fair, I’ve not read the book. Indeed, I’ve not even heard of it or Hedges until the POI interview. So my criticisms of Hedges’ opinions are based solely on the interview itself and his words there, which Hedges implied were a reflection of what he wrote in the book.
- Radical Atheism
To the first charge that the “new atheists” are “radical,” (I’ve a feeling there may be some liberal use of inverted commas throughout this post, so forgive me (at least I’m not nesting parenthetical comments)), I’d say this is true. After all, this is part of the reason the adjective “new” is applied to the label of atheism. Books like The End of Faith, God is Not Great, and The God Delusion are radical departures from previous atheistic literature if only in their marketing and popularity. The messages of these atheist authors is, likewise, radical in that there is a call for the rationally minded to speak out, to question, and to come out as atheists were applicable. Never before has atheism been so popular. There’s nothing wrong or inappropriate about being radical, particularly if it’s for the right cause.
But what Hedges seems to want us to believe is that being radical is synonymous with being wrong, evil, or otherwise negative for society. Granted there are many radical people who are flat out evil: suicide bombers, car jackers, wife beaters, polygamist cult leaders, advocates of female genital mutilation… these are all radical members of society. But what of those that led movements of suffrage, organized labor, and civil rights in the early part of the 20th century? And countless other “radicals” who recognized that the status quo was worth changing or improving upon?
- But what of Hedges’ charge that the new atheists are “fundamentalists”?
Hedges wields the term like a pejorative with an intent to be insulting more than critical. This, of course, isn’t new to atheists who apply the term to religious wackjobs, nuts, and cranks that go on about creationism, try to convince reasoned people that huricanes and tsunamis are hurled by imaginary deities at cities and nations because of homosexuality, and that science is the work yet another, albeit evil, deity known as Satan. In order to see why it’s a term that wouldn’t apply to atheists, new or old, it might first be helpful to understand the origin of term “fundamental.”
The Fundamentals were a series of pamphlets distributed by to churches and clergy by Protestant Christian apologists in the earliest decades fo the 20th century. Funded by a grant by Milton and Lyman Stewart of Union Oil Company, this collection of 90 essays in a 12 volume series of pamphlets essentially touched on what were then described as the “fundamentals” of Christianity:
- the inerrancy of the Bible as the literal word of God;
- the virgin birth of Christ;
- the bodily resurrection of Christ;
- the belief that Christ , through his death by crucifixion, forgave for the sins of humanity;
- the belief that Christ will, one day, return to establish his kingdom on Earth
Later proponents of The Fundamentals advocated, a return of society to a “pre-1950’s” structure and hierarchy in family and society as a whole: where gender roles were clear and those that wouldn’t accept a fundamentalist worldview were marginalized from the in-group of “right thinking” Christians. Mormons, Christian Scientists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, etc. were all threats to the “fundamental truths” of Christianity. This may even have been handy in demonizing the “atheistic communists” during the first years of the Cold War, the same years we first see the words “in God we trust”, on U.S. currency and hear the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Eisenhower probably wasn’t trying to follow the advice written in the essays of The Fundamentals that lambasted “higher criticism,” argued against liberalism, and denounced false churches. Instead he was seeking to unify a nation against the common enemy of communism. It must have been easier to show the American people that our cause is just by vilifying and demonizing the communist as godless -surely God was on our side.
These days, fundamentalists are generally regarded as those cranks and kooks in society that adhere to the literal “truths” of whatever cult they belong to, as told in their scriptures. Ironically, fundamentalists are the truly honest members of their respective religions since liberal or moderate adherents appear to cherry pick what portions of their scriptures are to be taken literal and which are to be considered allegorical, poetic, or the limited perspectives of Bronze Age nomads.
I think liberal and moderate adherents of religious cults know this. It pisses them off since their reason and intellect tells them most of their cult scripture is pure B.S. -otherwise they’d be proponents of stoning adulterers and beheading rape victims. And yet they can’t shake their delusions about old bearded white men in the sky and pretend to be affronted with the “new atheists” that dare to point out their fallacy. The new atheists dare to question time honored traditions of superstition. The new atheists have the audacity to criticize beliefs of others and to suggest that those beliefs are linked to violence, ignorance, and -let’s face it- stupidity.
Worse than that, Hedges goes so far as to mischaracterize the arguments of new atheists, specifically, Sam Harris. Several times, Hedges stated that Harris advocated in The End of Faith for a preemptive, first strike and nuclear war with Islam; that he equates all Muslims as suicide bombers and terrorists who fly planes into buildings. Clearly Hedges either: 1) didn’t actually read Harris’ book; 2) didn’t understand what he read; or 3) is outright mischaracterizing Harris’ words for those whom he is betting has not read The End of Faith. I don’ t think 1) is true, though it is possible. Had 2) been the case, I wouldn’t imagine Hedges would have been employed by newspapers like the Dallas Morning News and the Christian Science Monitor. That just leaves 3), unless I’m overlooking an option, and, where I live, mischaracterized is just a fancy way of saying “he lied.”
Here’s what Sam Harris had to say in The End of Faith (pp 128-129):
What will we do if an Islamist regime, which grows dewy-eyed at the mere mention of paradise, ever acquires long-range nuclear weaponry? If history is any guide, we will not be sure about where the offending warheads are or what their state of readiness is, and so we will be unable to rely on targeted, conventional weapons to destroy them. In such a situation, the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own. Needless to say, this would be an unthinkable crime—as it would kill tens of millions of innocent civilians in a single day—but it may be the only course of action available to us, given what Islamists believe. How would such an unconscionable act of self-defense be perceived by the rest of the Muslim world? It would likely be seen as the first incursion of a genocidal crusade. The horrible irony here is that seeing could make it so: this very perception could plunge us into a state of hot war with any Muslim state that had the capacity to pose a nuclear threat of its own. All of this is perfectly insane, of course: I have just described a plausible scenario in which much of the world’s population could be annihilated on account of religious ideas that belong on the same shelf with Batman, the philosopher’s stone, and unicorns. That it would be a horrible absurdity for so many of us to die for the sake of myth does not mean, however, that it could not happen.
One thing that was very obvious with Hedges’ interview with Grothe, and if I’m off the mark please tell me in a comment here, is that Hedges seemed pretty full of him self. Several times Grothe questioned the reasoning or the justification for his opinion and each time Hedges seemed to respond with an appeal to his time spent with Muslims here or there; the fact that he’s allegedly “banned” from Saudi Arabia for his journalism there; etc.
I’ve decided I’m not going to comment on the “utopianism” nonsense that Hedges seems to go on about. There are so many other things wrong with his arguments in his book (assuming that he was accurately portraying them in the interview) that I’ll let others listen, read and criticize.
One things for sure, if the nonsense he was spewing on Point of Inquiry is any guide to his intellect, honesty, and integrity, I certainly see no reason to believe in Chris Hedges or accept the veracity of anything else he’s written on the Middle East, Islam, Iraq, and Terrorism.
I’m a big fan of Atheist Revolution. In fact, of all the blogs in the atheosphere that I read, Vjack’s is the only one that I would be hesitant to delete from my Google Reader. Vjack has a post on a topic that I find near and dear: Defending the Atheist Movement. He begins thus:
Driving down the freeway, I observe two men, both riding Harley-Davidson motorcycles, pass each other while heading in opposite directions.Both extend the well-known “low wave,” a one-armed salute one often sees among bikers. There was no reason to suspect that these men knew each other, only that they share a common bond. They belong to no real community and certainly have no organizational structure. Their bond is about a shared identity. And even though they may never meet face-to-face, the connection is palpable.
And like the biker culture, Vjack rightly points out the existence of dissent among motorcycle enthusiasts in which there is an elite group that considers itself to be “bikers” and the rest “posers.” He doesn’t say this in terms as explicit, but the atheist movement is very much the same in that there are those that consider themselves to be “atheists” and the rest to be the equivalent of “posers.” This sub-group of weak atheists, Neville Chamberlain atheists, and other disparaging or pejorative terms that separate them from the “militant”-type atheists, many of whom embrace the “militant” term with open arms.
Personally, I’m not a big favor of “militant,” “weak,” “Neville Chamberlain,” and other monikers, though I acknowledge they do tend to characterize individual atheists that have differing opinions of how to approach the topic and movement of atheism.
However, there are some commonalities that atheists generally share. Even the bikers who disparage the “posers” cannot disagree that there is something alluring and free about riding a motorcycle -a quality shared between the posers that ride Hondas, Yamahas, and BMWs and the “bikers” that stick to their Harleys and Indians.
The atheist who considers himself to be “militant” in his atheism also shares most of the same concerns as the atheist that is less-militant. And Vjack nails it on the head here:
1. Sharp, sustained criticism of religion as irrational and destructive
2. Promotion of a reality-based worldview including reason, science, skepticism, critical thinking, secular education, and secular humanism
3. Defense of atheist rights from a Civil Rights perspective to end anti-atheist discrimination and reduce anti-atheist bigotry
4. Support for atheists in their escape from religion
Possibly the only item above that might not be universally shared is the first, but even the “Neville Chamberlains” among us probably recognize the irrationality of religion, so some bit of that point will also ring true. Reading the comments of Vjack’s original post, there is a bit of disagreement with some to the inclusion of “secular humanism,” but I think their reservations are misplaced. Some view secular humanism as a pseudo-religious position. This might be true but only if you accept that the things that it takes from religion is the sense of community and social bonding, leaving the supernatural and other deleterious aspects behind. The result isn’t a religion or even a philosophy that aspires to be a religion. The result is a worldview that simply says you can have morality and justice in the world without invoking supernatural origins or authority.
But Vjacks main point is the one that shouldn’t be overlooked, regardless of how each of us individually characterizes our own atheism: we our bonded by a common godless position. Whether we are hard-line militant atheists or agnostics who think its fine for the religious to believe what they will, we each accept that the supernatural isn’t necessary to live our lives. We each recognize the irrationality of religion. We each attempt to hold a rational worldview. We each desire that atheists rights be recognized. And we each hope that those seeking to escape religion are at least provided with an environment that allows them to make their own choices and to inquire freely.
I don’t always agree with all of its members, but I’m proud to be a member of the godless community.
The video above runs about 8 minutes and I wouldn’t attempt to subject you to more than that. But I think it’s helpful for atheists to watch this video to get a sense of the point of view and the lengths to which those deluded by Christianity (and probably any other religion) are willing to go in order to preserve their superstitious memes.
Here’s the gist of the video:
Christian apologists are greatly concerned about the prevalence of those willing to speak out critically of their superstitions and beliefs. In the very first seconds of the clip, a theologian/apologist remarks that discussion, criticism, and inquiry into his god previously only took place in the “ivory towers” of academia. Now, he continues, such discussion is open and public and, even more to his angst, being discussed on “shows popular with young people” like Comedy Central and the Cobert Report, which, between them, interviewed Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris.
The accusation, of course, is that these popular authors are attacking transcendent beings and beliefs with “violence and venom.” More amazingly, the theologian/apologist they interviewed goes on to say this “violence and venom” is unprecedented.
First, he does not once establish that Hitchens, Dawkins or Harris have used “violence” in their books. They’ve each discussed violence, but in the context of religious nuts utilizing it against those that believed differently than they. So, not only did the guy completely fabricate the claim of “violence” committed by these three esteemed authors, he also ignores the fact that his own religious cult is culpable in establishing precedence for use of such violence should it have been used. Violence, however, isn’t the method rational people use in speaking out against that which they find objectional, false, silly, or superstitious. Unlike the nuts that killed a gay man in Wyoming because their god hates homosexuality; unlike the nuts that bomb abortion clinics; unlike the nuts that fly planes into skyscrapers; and unlike the thugs that assault Kansas professors who teach evolution -rational people find civil discourse, the press, the media, and the publishing industry to refute the superstitions of irrational people.
As to the charge of “venom,” isn’t this really just an argument from blasphemy? How dare rational people challenge the time-honored tradition of not questioning religious superstition? Is there a polite way to question the superstitions and cult beliefs of the religious without appearing venomous to them? There simply is no good evidence or reason to accept their superstitions as true. Call it venom if you wish, but truth will always be painful to the deluded and their reactions all but demonstrate their delusion.
One of the more disingenuous criticisms the clip attempts to provide is the interview with Paul J. Voss, an associate professor of literature at Georgia State who calls Dawkins’ The God Delusion a “scree,” which he describes as a genre of literature that is “highly emotional, poignant, full of attacking…” The credits under Voss as he delivers his “objective” literary perspective describes him just as I did with the link and words above: an associate professor at Georgia State. What isn’t said is that he isn’t objective. Voss is the president of academic affairs at Southern Catholic College, where indoctrination and superstition reign supreme and rational discourse and science take a back seat. He taught theology at a Catholic High School for over three years and that is the reason he was chosen for the spot on this “news” clip.
But Voss never gives any example of Dawkins’ “emotional” and “attacking” words from the God Delusion. Nor do most of the critics of his book. And the critics that do provide examples are made to look foolish since the quotes they provide are either clearly a jest or otherwise hold up. His only real criticism is the title itself, which includes the accusation of “delusion.” Sorry, Voss, but its true. Delusion, the erroneous belief held in the face of evidence to the contrary, is the most accurate assessment of those that believe in superstitious nonsense like virgin births, transubstantiation, creation, and Noah’s flood. The best argument Voss provides to counter this assertion of delusion is an argument from popularity. The band wagon consists of “90%” of the population, so, therefore, the 10% that don’t believe are wrong. One is left to wonder about the 90% of Greeks who believed Medusa was really the snake-haired Gorgon that was so ugly you turned to stone by just looking at her. Did the popularity of their delusion mean she was real?
But getting back on track, the clip goes on to mention the Out Campaign in such a way as to demonstrate the threat that “New Atheists” have on Christian superstitions. The criticism at this point is that the “New Atheism” is militant and intolerant. This, I suppose, is true depending on how one describes militancy and intolerance. If “militant” means being proactive and aggressive, and if “intolerant” means no longer sitting down and simply accepting the old taboo of questioning religious dogma and superstition, then I hope we’re guilty. But, in that case, there’s far less “militancy” than can be found with evangelical, bible-thumping, door-to-door religious nuts who seek to fill their pews for tithing. It’s also clear that religious nuts are not in the least bit tolerant of the non-religious -and this very clip is demonstrative of that fact.
The original apologist/theologian (revealed midway through to be a pastor) I mentioned above shares an anecdote about how he met the graduate assistant of a popular atheist author who finally admits to him how smart the pastor is and how ignorant the atheist is. The implication of this story (probably a complete fiction) is that atheists don’t bother reading religious and theological works and are, therefore, not qualified to discuss or have opinions about the superstitions of religious cults. I challenge any religious nut to, that pastor included, to take me to task on this: present to me any “clear, rational, responsible Christian perspective” written by any theologian and I will demonstrate why it is complete an utter nonsense.
Theologians aren’t qualified to have rational opinions on their own superstitions. It would be like citing the authority of a fairiologist, a ufologist, or an aeropigologist. Only if we are to accept the matter of fact existence of fairies, space aliens in flying saucers, or flying pigs, then these experts are meaningful.
Finally, I want to point out the closing comments of the clip. The call to arms, so to speak, of the religious is to increase apologetics training to the children. Indoctrinate them young and get them on the side of superstition and the Christian meme now, so that they’ll be less open-minded once they reach the university and become exposed to the Ph.D.’s there who are out to turn them all into atheists.
I’m not kidding. That’s the crap it ends with.
Here’s short video of Christopher Hitchens being interviewed for the Morning, Noon, and Night Show.
In the video he discusses the much-cited opinion polls that put atheists as the most distrusted group in the nation. I think I tend to agree with Hitchens about this, too. He points out that people lie in opinion polls and that “there aren’t enough churches” to fit all the people who claim to go to church in the United States and that people are generally biased to answer in favor of theism when polled.
This is a well-understood concept among sociologists, you don’t, for instance, ask directly, “have you read the Constitution” when you want to gauge the knowledge trends of American history. People are just naturally embarrassed to admit that they haven’t read the Constitution. Likewise, might tend to be biased toward answering in the affirmative regarding religion and the negative regarding atheism. Hitchens also points out that one of the larges growing groups in the U.S. is the non-believers.
All in all, the video is worth your time. It’s short, but must be old even though it was just posted. Otherwise the weather in Nantucket far different than what has been reported on the Weather Channel. They’re usually bouncing around freezing this time of year!