Posts Tagged atheism
You may have seen the excerpt on Salon from Chris Stedman’s new book, Faitheist, in which he complains about how other atheists are such meanies.
(No, really: that is what’s going on in the book.)
Ophelia Benson read the excerpt so the rest of us wouldn’t have to, and she found that he puts a lot of energy into making himself seem as extravagantly humble as possible. If the phrase “extravagantly humble” sounds like an oxymoron, that should tell you something about the tone of the book.
While he’s at it, he gives us an anecdote of an encounter he had which seems rather…implausible. Ophelia describes it thus:
I’m reminded of Kingsley Amis, reading a novel he hated, constantly saying as he read, “No she didn’t, no they weren’t, no he didn’t, no it wasn’t like that.” I don’t believe a word of that paragraph. I don’t believe he remembers any brooch or tan corduroy vest – or their ages – or what they said – and certainly not that they said what he quotes.
I went and read the full text, and she’s not exaggerating. I will quote some passages, in sequential order:
I had never heard the word “faitheist” before, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t a compliment.
I blushed and ran my hands through my short hair — a nervous habit — and cleared my throat, asking if it was intended to be an insult.
“Yes,” he said without inflection. “There’s nothing worse than a ‘faitheist.’”
*blogger runs knitting needle through long, thick, incandescently shiny mane*
You want us to think about your hair? Show us something remarkable.
More importantly, I find it extremely difficult to believe that this other dude actually said those words. The jury’s still out on whether the no-inflection dude even exists.
Though I was disheartened by the event, I went to the post-panel reception, held at one of the panelists’ apartments, because I hoped that if I spoke with more of the group members I’d find some people who shared my opinions or learn a bit more about why they believed differently than I did. Also, as a thrifty graduate student, free dinner and drinks were hard to pass up!
I walked in and instantly removed my shoes. The apartment was beautiful; the ceiling-to-floor windows allowed for a stunning view of Chicago’s orange-and-white-lit skyline. The living room was impeccably clean. I scanned the crowd; I was easily the youngest person there and unfashionably underdressed (nothing new there). Looking down at my feet, I noticed there was a hole in each of my socks.
I sympathize with the impulse to go for the free drinks and dinner, I really do. It wasn’t too long ago that I was white-collar poor and wondering when I’d have health coverage again. However, the attention he gives to the fabulous apartment, contrasted with his own worn-out socks, is no accident. The trope of young, eager, struggling Chris Stedman up against the older, wealthier, more cynical New Atheists is a major theme in this piece.
I sat down on the couch, carefully balancing a mint julep in one hand and a plate of hors d’oeuvres I couldn’t name in the other, intensely aware of how out of place I must have seemed. Next to me on the couch were a woman in her mid-40s with a shimmering peacock brooch and a man in his late 30s wearing a denim shirt and a tan corduroy vest. I introduced myself and asked what they’d thought of the panel. They raved: “Wasn’t it wonderful how intelligent the panelists were and how wickedly they’d exposed the frauds of religion? Weren’t they right that we must all focus our energy on bringing about the demise of religious myths?”
Ophelia Benson does not believe that Stedman actually remembers the details of the peacock brooch or the denim shirt and tan vest. I suppose it’s possible that these two people at the party were dressed that way, and that Stedman remembers it, but it’s also no accident that the peacock is an obvious symbol of pride. The dialogue, unfortunately, drains the paragraph of credibility. I do not believe for a second that anyone at that party actually said those lines. Why not, you ask? Because no one talks that way in an unscripted conversation.
I paused, debating whether I should say anything. My “Minnesota Nice” inclination warned me to let it be, but I had to say something. So I started small, asking them to consider that diversity of thought and background fosters an environment where discourse thrives, where ideas are exchanged, and where we learn from one another.
I was stonewalled: “We have the superior perspective; everyone else is lost,” said the woman with a flick of her hand that suggested she was swatting at an invisible mosquito.
No. No, she did not say that. I’ve hung out with atheists of the outspoken, confrontational variety that Stedman abhors. I’ve attended appearances by PZ Myers, for example, and had some fabulous conversations with the other attendees. They’re not all nice people, in fact some are raging assholes, but their speech is not unnatural.
Our conversation continued, and I offered up petitions that the positive contributions of religious people be considered with equal weight alongside the negative.
“I understand what you’re saying,” I said, trying to weigh my words carefully, “but how can we discount the role religious beliefs played in motivating the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi?”
“Oh, I get it,” the man jumped in with a sneer. “You’re one of those atheists.”
I wasn’t sure what he meant, but it didn’t sound like a good thing. I shifted my weight from one side to another — another nervous habit — and picked at an hors d’oeuvre that I thought might be some kind of cheese.
“What do you mean, ‘one of those atheists?’”
“You’re not a real atheist. We’ve got a name for people like you. You’re a ‘faitheist.’”
It is extremely unlikely that this conversation actually happened. “We’ve got a name for people like you”? No. This is, at best, exaggeration.
Leaving my Loyola class the day after my first atheist event, I stepped out into the cool, windy Chicago afternoon and thought back to my conversation with the man who had called me a “faitheist.” The bird-brooched woman had abandoned our discussion quickly, saying she didn’t want to waste her time. The man and I had moved to the hall, grabbing more food and another drink on the way.
“Take Islam,” he had said, leaning into a doorframe while I clutched my beer a little too tightly, the condensation running down my forearm to meet with the sweat that had just reached my elbow. “Now that’s a violent faith. And don’t try to tell me it’s not, because I’ve read the Koran.”
I thought of my friend Sayira, one of the most compassionate people I knew. Sayira was a young woman who was motivated by her Muslim faith to work for the economically disadvantaged.
This is another place where I have a bit of sympathy: I don’t like to see Muslims tarred with the terrorist brush, either, but that’s not what that man was doing, assuming he even said what Stedman quotes, which is still implausible. I have Muslim co-workers who are lovely people, and I’m aware of the Muslim emphasis on charity, but charity does not negate violence. Individuals can be wonderful, but that’s a separate issue from what their religion asks of them. Individuals can be totally peaceful, decent and generous, and the religion in which they count themselves can still be responsible for an outsize proportion of the world’s violence. I have no doubt that Sayira is awesome. Stedman’s position doesn’t become any more coherent when he contrasts Mr. Does-He-Actually-Talk-That-Way with Sayira, this one Muslim young lady who’s a wonderful person.
When you put words between quotation marks, you are showing the reader what came out of a person’s mouth, verbatim, in real time. The punctuation is not simply decorative. If you want to use quotes in a snarky manner to show us what you think the person really means to say, then first we need to see the words themselves. The dialogue that Stedman quotes in this excerpt is credible only if you’re willing to believe that confrontational atheists are humorless, emotionally deficient, socially crippled freaks with dazzling vocabularies. Those are not the speech patterns of normal people. In a novel, dialogue like that would look absurd. In a memoir, it’s preposterous. It makes the entire encounter look like a fabrication.
MOAR take-downs of Stedman’s ridiculousness!
Someone made this happen, and Paula Kirby (who was until quite recently someone I respected) Tweeted it around:
So then Ophelia Benson showed it off on her blog so that we could point and laugh.
For those who have no idea what this is about: there’s been some assholery going around the atheist movement over the past year-and-change. Only now is the assholery leading to actual upheaval. This is one of those things that have been puked up due to the motion sickness of the rug getting pulled out from under them.
This is probably not the effect that the “artist” intended: I want to jump in there and assist Jen and Greta with whatever it is they’re doing on monkey-face. I want to kneel at Rebecca’s feet. I want to learn the wise ways of Ophelia. I want to have a beer with Richard and PZ.
These are just the sensations coming up from looking at this picture.
I see from the context that this little collage was intended to ridicule the FTB/Skepchick alliance, but the effect is that they all seem like an awesome bunch of people. If you’re trying to ridicule, it helps to make the object of your derision actually look ridiculous.
Hemant Mehta asks about the relative paucity of atheist fiction compared to non-fiction.
***Edit***: Readers point out that there are several other authors of atheist fiction — e.g. Phillip Pullman, Douglas Adams, Gene Roddenberry — so maybe a better question would be why atheist fiction isn’t as popular lately?
And as it happens, his blog seems to have eaten my comment. I don’t know whether it’s a technical glitch with Disqus or a moderation issue, and if it’s the latter, then I’d just be digging deeper into a hole by trying again.
If Hemant wants to know why we don’t have an author of the stature of Pullman, Adams or Roddenberry currently active, then I can’t help him. However, I can offer a brief answer to his question of “Where Are the Atheist Fiction Books?”: RIGHT HERE.
It’s even getting some good reviews now. Just because it isn’t on shelves in bookstores, doesn’t mean it isn’t available.
We have the Reason Rally in less than a week (!!!), and wherever you have a gathering composed of thousands of heathens, will there be arguing? Why, yes. Yes there will be.
Round 1: PZ Myers is not happy with the list of speakers.
Round 2: Hemant Mehta doesn’t want to hear it.
Round 3: Jen McCreight also doesn’t want to hear it.
Round 4: PZ Myers is still unimpressed.
I’m sure this has the potential to be greatly entertaining, but in this case, I must admit that I feel for the organizers. I’m not taking a position on whether PZ has a valid point, but I am taking a position on the fact that he is not among the people who’ve put a huge amount of work into making the Rally happen. They can’t please everyone.
So, my priority on Saturday will be to navigate the Rally without having any meltdowns due to crowding and personal space issues, and until then, I have stories to make. When someone obnoxious/irrelevant/boring has the mike, I’ll feel free to take a pee break. It’s not all about me.
Coming to the end of Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics and the Values Wars by Sikivu Hutchinson, I am forcibly reminded of PZ Myers’s endorsement of The Greatest Show On Earth, by Richard Dawkins.
There are no more excuses. None.
Perhaps it’s a bad sign that I can’t think of a better comparison than a recent biology-focused tome by Prof. Dawkins, but bear with me a few minutes.
While Prof. Dawkins chose an ambitious but uncomplicated project of establishing in layman-friendly terms the reality of Darwinian natural selection, Dr. Hutchinson’s book takes place at a very different degree of sociological difficulty. She places herself between the black church, the larger white-supremacist and patriarchal society, and the developing atheist movement, and she schools them all. There are few people left uncriticized by her scholarship, only some largely invisible and unheard slivers of society left uninstructed to unpack some invisible baggage.
When it is finished, there are no more excuses. None. There should be no more hand-waving away the need for a wider range of voices in the freethinking movement, no more man-splaining and white-splaining about what issues should “really” be the focus of skepticism and atheism, and no more clueless hand-wringing over why there aren’t more women or more people of color involved in outspoken atheism. There are no more excuses for failure to comprehend these concerns, no more assuming that skepticism begins with the Big Bang and ends with Bigfoot. Outside of the New Atheism, there should be no more telling the godless that for the sake of harmony we should simply stop being so noisy about our non-belief. There should be no more pointing to disadvantaged groups’ reliance on religion as evidence of its veracity. There should be no more attempts to silence atheism with the presupposition that religion maintains a more ethical, just and civil society regardless of its explanatory power. These are the questions that live at the intersection of sexism, racism, economic injustice and religion in America, and if you just sit down for a while and prepare yourself to unlearn some party lines, Dr. Hutchinson will make everything clear.
There will be some ideas expressed in her book with which you disagree, and some connections explored with which you were previously unfamiliar, and that is only more reason to become acquainted with these concerns. Fear not the expanse of an overly ambitious tome, for Dr. Hutchinson’s writing covers an astonishing breadth and depth of research and insight in a remarkably modest word count. There is no more need for multi-megabyte Internet explosions of privileged obliviousness over godless demographic issues. Here are the answers to your questions.
Because Richard Dawkins declined an offer to debate the existence of God with William Lane Craig, Premier Christian Radio is putting his (Dawkins’s, that is) name on buses:
The new advert reads: “There’s probably no Dawkins. Now stop worrying and enjoy Oct 25th at the Sheldonian Theatre.”
This, of course, is a paraphrase of the 2009 atheist advertising campaign, which put “There’s probably no God” on bus sides. Where the heathens put “God,” PCR puts, “Dawkins.” Hmm. Interesting. Of course I realize the context is different, but…you do know how this looks, right, PCR? It’s kind of like you think we worship Prof. Dawkins, or something. We don’t even always agree with him.
The reason why Prof. Dawkins is uninterested in debating is basically that the event would look good on their resume, not so much on his. Meanwhile,
Prof Craig said the poster campaign “leaves a shred of hope that he may turn up”.
He thinks Prof. Dawkins will change his mind because they’re using his name to advertise the event? Yeah, I don’t think so.
Jerry Coyne continues to suggest that President Obama is actually an atheist. He points to text from Obama’s book, Dreams From My Father, which demonstrates that Obama had reasons other than spiritual to join a church and start behaving like a Christian. That’s fair enough, but as Coyne admits,
Of course, there’s no way to adjudicate the issue—how can you look into his heart?
That is a very good question: how does one determine whether the President really believes in God? This is not a matter that can be measured or observed from the outside. Only Barack Obama knows what he believes. Further evidence for Prof. Coyne’s claim is:
Face it: none of us really knows what the man believes. Consider this, though: what if he really was an atheist, as his earlier history suggests, but also had a burning desire to be President? What would he do? Pretend that he was religious, of course! Nobody who refuses to pander to the faithful could ever be elected President in this era. This fact immediately makes all the evidence for Obama’s “faith” suspect, like Michael Corleone assuring a Congressional committee that he’s just a simple importer of olive oil.
Well, that much is true: anyone who wants to be POTUS pretty much has no choice but to pass as a Christian. By that logic, how many of the previous 43 POTUSes were also covert atheists? Are we now going to sift through FDR’s early writings to seek evidence of godlessness? And if Obama really does believe in the Holy Trinity, how should he go about proving to Prof. Coyne that he’s not just going through the motions for political reasons? Do all presidential candidates have to pass an audition to demonstrate their Christian credentials to the electorate? How does a politician prove a negative?
If you want people to read your article about religion, atheism and/or science, you know what you need to do? Start it with a nice picture of Richard Dawkins’s face. Love him or hate him, the man sells papers.
Seriously, though, I’m having a hard time grasping how Christianity’s appeal to the “intellectually and educationally excluded” should be a point of pride. Sticking up for the little guys, great. Choosing the side of “little children” in opposition to the “learned and wise”? Really? That’s where you want to plant your flag? If you expect the rest of us to join you in equating anti-intellectualism with moral integrity, don’t hold your breath.
A young-ish single woman who happens to run a blog is enjoying (enduring?) a grayish, quiet weekend in her house. Conscious that she has not been posting to her blog as frequently as she used to (she still blames the Internet for failing to supply her with interesting blog material), she heads over to one of her favorite science/skeptic sites, RD.net, where she finds two articles, this one and this one, which both essentially say the same thing. The message on both sides, though with somewhat different tone and intentions, is that atheists don’t have enough children. That we need to be more like religious people and have more babies, or else we’ll all disappear.
The blogger reads these articles, takes another sip from her drink, and yawns.