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    Tuesday, April 25, 2006

    More Lefty Asshat Bravado

    I support your right to be an atheist, atheists. But please stop it with this crap. Have a bumper sticker on your car, The Theory of Evolution on your bookshelf, and feel free to discuss your views, just stop trying to force your ideas on everybody else. Or even just calling everyone else stupid. Because it makes you all look like assholes on the level of Christians who want public schoolchildren to join hands in The Lord's Prayer after the Pledge of Allegiance and want to leave abortion only to those religious virgins who are brutally raped and sodomized.

    Here's Sam Harris, asshat leader of the Proud Atheists:

    Somewhere in the world a man has abducted a little girl. Soon he will rape, torture and kill her. If an atrocity of this kind is not occurring at precisely this moment, it will happen in a few hours, or days at most. Such is the confidence we can draw from the statistical laws that govern the lives of 6 billion human beings. The same statistics also suggest that this girl s parents believe at this very moment that an all-powerful and all-loving God is watching over them and their family. Are they right to believe this? Is it good that they believe this?

    No.

    The entirety of atheism is contained in this response. Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply a refusal to deny the obvious.


    I'm sorry, but it's these fundamental misunderstandings of religious faith that make atheists seem like such jerks.

    1. "Are they right to believe [that an all-powerful and all-loving God is watching over them and their family]?" Sam Harris asks. He then so facilely answers "No".

    Ummm. How the fuck do you know, Sam Atheist I Am? Your statement is based on faith too. Your faith is that, if there was a God, this God would do whatever you thought was best. Therefore, there must not be a God.

    2. Let's say there was a way of knowing that Harris was right, that God was not indeed watching over them. Would that still be such a bad thing to believe? Would not believing have made them take better care of their daughter, and somehow always protect her from harm? Somehow I imagine that, proportionally, as many atheists as religious folks are victims of violent crime.

    3. Atheism=a refusal to deny the obvious. Which is what? Are Christians going around saying that there is no crime? I certainly haven't heard that. And, if there is indeed a Christian voting bloc, they have generally been pretty supportive of being "tough on crime" and junk.

    It is worth noting that no one ever needs to identify himself as a non-astrologer or a non-alchemist. Consequently, we do not have words for people who deny the validity of these pseudo-disciplines. Likewise, atheism is a term that should not even exist. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make when in the presence of religious dogma. The atheist is merely a person who believes that the 260 million Americans (87% of the population) who claim to never doubt the existence of God should be obliged to present evidence for his existence and, indeed, for his benevolence, given the relentless destruction of innocent human beings we witness in the world each day. Only the atheist appreciates just how uncanny our situation is: Most of us believe in a God that is every bit as specious as the gods of Mount Olympus; no person, whatever his or her qualifications, can seek public office in the United States without pretending to be certain that such a God exists; and much of what passes for public policy in our country conforms to religious taboos and superstitions appropriate to a medieval theocracy. Our circumstance is abject, indefensible and terrifying. It would be hilarious if the stakes were not so high.

    1. Is it "worth noting that no one ever needs to identify himself as a non-astrologer or a non-alchemist"? No. It's not really. Because we're talking about majority and minority here. That's all. I have to identify myself in a myriad of different ways based on being part of minority groups. You, Sam Harris, are not specially oppressed.

    2. "The atheist is merely a person who believes that the 260 million Americans (87% of the population) who claim to never doubt the existence of God should be obliged to present evidence for his existence and, indeed, for his benevolence, given the relentless destruction of innocent human beings we witness in the world each day."

    Simply? You think that it's necessary for millions and millions of people to sit down with you and prove it to you? Yes, anything anyone else thinks will "simply" remain invalid until you, Sam Harris, and your proud atheist ilk, declare it "proven". Your "proof" is not the proof of the religious anyway, so it wouldn't work, it wouldn't work in either direction.

    3. I agree that people should be able to pursue public office without pretending to be something they're not. I think everyone wishes that politicians could be more honest about most aspects of their lives, instead of deliberately misleading the public. All that said, some of these Proud Atheists should step up to the plate and try to run for office, if they expect the landscape to change. That's what it has been taking for racial and ethnic minorities, women, Jews, Catholics, Muslims, and queers. I'm sure that the Proud Atheists are probably just too good to go out and try to represent the interests of these pathetic huddled "godbag" masses though. So, let them sit around and write manifesto after manifesto.

    If we live rightly—not necessarily ethically, but within the framework of certain ancient beliefs and stereotyped behaviors—we will get everything we want after we die. When our bodies finally fail us, we just shed our corporeal ballast and travel to a land where we are reunited with everyone we loved while alive. Of course, overly rational people and other rabble will be kept out of this happy place, and those who suspended their disbelief while alive will be free to enjoy themselves for all eternity.

    Sounds right to me. I am a doubter, so I don't think it makes sense for me to reap the benefits for which believers sacrificed during their lifetimes. Sneering at all the dummies who buy into this God crap shouldn't really earn me any afterlife privileges. That's fair and just.

    Consider the destruction that Hurricane Katrina leveled on New Orleans. More than a thousand people died, tens of thousands lost all their earthly possessions, and nearly a million were displaced. It is safe to say that almost every person living in New Orleans at the moment Katrina struck believed in an omnipotent, omniscient and compassionate God. But what was God doing while a hurricane laid waste to their city? Surely he heard the prayers of those elderly men and women who fled the rising waters for the safety of their attics, only to be slowly drowned there. These were people of faith. These were good men and women who had prayed throughout their lives. Only the atheist has the courage to admit the obvious: These poor people died talking to an imaginary friend.

    I'm sorry, but what's so COURAGEOUS about saying something angst-ridden teens and insecure scientists have been boasting for millenia? Yes, it may be courageous to do so if you are a teacher, if you are a public figure, or running for elective office. It may be courageous to do so if you are a member of a rigorously religious family or community. But it's not courageous to act like the victims of Katrina were a bunch of deluded infants on TruthDig.com.

    Only the atheist recognizes the boundless narcissism and self-deceit of the saved. Only the atheist realizes how morally objectionable it is for survivors of a catastrophe to believe themselves spared by a loving God while this same God drowned infants in their cribs. Because he refuses to cloak the reality of the world’s suffering in a cloying fantasy of eternal life, the atheist feels in his bones just how precious life is--and, indeed, how unfortunate it is that millions of human beings suffer the most harrowing abridgements of their happiness for no good reason at all.

    1. Only the non-atheist seems to recognize the boundless narcissism of the atheists who insist on explaining to the rest of the world how stupid they are.

    2. I enjoy how "the atheist" is a "he". Nice job, Sam Harris.

    3. Again, to the religious, "the most harrowing abridgements of happiness" are not "for no good reason at all". The meek shall inherit the earth, blessed are the poor, blah, blah, blah. Isn't it just possible that some of those religious people think that the innocent harmed are actually the blessed?

    Of course, people of faith regularly assure one another that God is not responsible for human suffering. But how else can we understand the claim that God is both omniscient and omnipotent? There is no other way, and it is time for sane human beings to own up to this. This is the age-old problem of theodicy, of course, and we should consider it solved. If God exists, either he can do nothing to stop the most egregious calamities or he does not care to. God, therefore, is either impotent or evil. Pious readers will now execute the following pirouette: God cannot be judged by merely human standards of morality. But, of course, human standards of morality are precisely what the faithful use to establish God’s goodness in the first place. And any God who could concern himself with something as trivial as gay marriage, or the name by which he is addressed in prayer, is not as inscrutable as all that. If he exists, the God of Abraham is not merely unworthy of the immensity of creation; he is unworthy even of man.

    1. Can God be both omnipotent and omniscient? Of course! Why? Because it's not necessarily in the best interests of humans to spare them all pain and suffering! Or
    because being anti-interventionist is not the same as being anti-whatever-country-in-which-folks-are-intervening.

    2. I don't think gay marriage is trivial. Not at all.

    3. And finally, perhaps God is interested in seeing that we fight for what we think is right and righteous.

    Consequently, only the atheist is compassionate enough to take the profundity of the world’s suffering at face value. It is terrible that we all die and lose everything we love; it is doubly terrible that so many human beings suffer needlessly while alive. That so much of this suffering can be directly attributed to religion--to religious hatreds, religious wars, religious delusions and religious diversions of scarce resources--is what makes atheism a moral and intellectual necessity.

    1. One needn't be an atheist to do all one can to help and to ease and to prevent human suffering. In fact, it might be worth considering who's doing most of the charity work to help those suffering.

    2. And you don't have to be religious to do harm. Should we ban ideology of any kind? And you know what would make a lot of people suffer more? Being forced to hear how stupid and selfish and unable to experience compassion and deluded they are. Worse? Not being able to practice religion at all. That's where the ideology of atheism=moral and intellectual necessity leads. And I somehow doubt it would be any less violent or less a cause of suffering than the ideologies of religion before it.

    Political liberals seem to have drawn the wrong lesson from these developments and are now thumbing Scripture, wondering how best to ingratiate themselves to the legions of men and women in our country who vote largely on the basis of religious dogma.

    Full agreement here: liberals should be more concerned about reaching out to those who vote based on a variety of things, rather than performing a fake religiousity that, frankly, insults the truly faithful.

    Although it is easy enough for smart people to criticize religious fundamentalism, something called “religious moderation” still enjoys immense prestige in our society, even in the ivory tower. This is ironic, as fundamentalists tend to make a more principled use of their brains than “moderates” do. While fundamentalists justify their religious beliefs with extraordinarily poor evidence and arguments, at least they make an attempt at rational justification. Moderates, on the other hand, generally do nothing more than cite the good consequences of religious belief. Rather than say that they believe in God because certain biblical prophecies have come true, moderates will say that they believe in God because this belief “gives their lives meaning.” When a tsunami killed a few hundred thousand people on the day after Christmas, fundamentalists readily interpreted this cataclysm as evidence of God’s wrath. As it turns out, God was sending humanity another oblique message about the evils of abortion, idolatry and homosexuality. While morally obscene, this interpretation of events is actually reasonable, given certain (ludicrous) assumptions. Moderates, on the other hand, refuse to draw any conclusions whatsoever about God from his works. God remains a perfect mystery, a mere source of consolation that is compatible with the most desolating evil. In the face of disasters like the Asian tsunami, liberal piety is apt to produce the most unctuous and stupefying nonsense imaginable. And yet, men and women of goodwill naturally prefer such vacuities to the odious moralizing and prophesizing of true believers. Between catastrophes, it is surely a virtue of liberal theology that it emphasizes mercy over wrath. It is worth noting, however, that it is human mercy on display--not God’s--when the bloated bodies of the dead are pulled from the sea. On days when thousands of children are simultaneously torn from their mothers’ arms and casually drowned, liberal theology must stand revealed for what it is--the sheerest of mortal pretenses. Even the theology of wrath has more intellectual merit. If God exists, his will is not inscrutable. The only thing inscrutable in these terrible events is that so many neurologically healthy men and women can believe the unbelievable and think this the height of moral wisdom.

    Yeah, mysteries could not possibly exist because Sam Harris is on the case - nothing slips by him. And the "human mercy" he refers to couldn't possibly be motivated by religious faith. And if it is, that's really just completely and totally irelevant? Huh?

    It is perfectly absurd for religious moderates to suggest that a rational human being can believe in God simply because this belief makes him happy, relieves his fear of death or gives his life meaning. The absurdity becomes obvious the moment we swap the notion of God for some other consoling proposition: Imagine, for instance, that a man wants to believe that there is a diamond buried somewhere in his yard that is the size of a refrigerator. No doubt it would feel uncommonly good to believe this. Just imagine what would happen if he then followed the example of religious moderates and maintained this belief along pragmatic lines: When asked why he thinks that there is a diamond in his yard that is thousands of times larger than any yet discovered, he says things like, “This belief gives my life meaning,” or “My family and I enjoy digging for it on Sundays,” or “I wouldn’t want to live in a universe where there wasn’t a diamond buried in my backyard that is the size of a refrigerator.” Clearly these responses are inadequate. But they are worse than that. They are the responses of a madman or an idiot.

    Harris: stop with the bogus comparisons. Stop it with the God of the Bible=gods of Olympus, God of the Bible=diamond in the backyard, etc. Do you think that's going to convince anyone who's not already on board? "Gee, I realized my faith was basically like a crazy person believing in a diamond in their backyard, so I stopped believing and joined the Proud Atheists." Also, if someone believes in a diamond in their backyard, who does it hurt? Belief doesn't hurt anyone. Certain actions based on beliefs sometimes do, but it's like punishing someone for wishing their boss would die. If s/he didn't kill her/him, no crime was committed.

    There must be some causal connection, or an appearance thereof, between the fact in question and a person’s acceptance of it. In this way, we can see that religious beliefs, to be beliefs about the way the world is, must be as evidentiary in spirit as any other.

    Why? What is so offensive about mystery?

    Needless to say, a rational argument against religious faith is not an argument for the blind embrace of atheism as a dogma. The problem that the atheist exposes is none other than the problem of dogma itself--of which every religion has more than its fair share. There is no society in recorded history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable.

    This paragraph, to me, explains why "agnostic" doesn't annoy me but "atheist" does, when said person goes railing against religion. Atheism is a dogma based not on "facts" but on suppositions.

    While most Americans believe that getting rid of religion is an impossible goal, much of the developed world has already accomplished it. Any account of a “god gene” that causes the majority of Americans to helplessly organize their lives around ancient works of religious fiction must explain why so many inhabitants of other First World societies apparently lack such a gene.

    Bring on the genetic argument- a My Amusement Park favorite!

    In a world riven by ignorance, only the atheist refuses to deny the obvious: Religious faith promotes human violence to an astonishing degree.

    I think that most people would admit that religion and violence are often connected. I mean, there's a reason why a lot of Americans are scared of Muslims.
    Here's the thing: the underlying assumption here is that violence is always wrong and that we should avoid anything associated with it. And that's quite an assumption. Especially as Harris invoked the Holocaust earlier- if a person of faith believes that wrong is being done, that person will feel the need to help and protect, even if that includes violence (against violence) as the Allied Forces fought the Germans.

    Here's what makes no sense about Harris's argument. He thinks that simply seeing sadness, loss, destruction, pain around you makes it irresponsible, immoral, or stupid to believe in God. This privileges happiness as he understands it. But then he says it's wrong for people to justify religion because it might make people happy. So, we oppose religion because it is willful ignorance of suffering and a tacit complicity with this suffering, but, if one says it's okay to believe in something to relieve suffering, they are lacking in compassion.

    I want to state again that I don't hate atheists and I do think that their voices are quiet in the mainstream. But like the post yesterday from the vegetarian, this knee-jerk appeal to "intellectualism" (and, not so covertly, upper-middle-class educated elitism) is obviously going to put people off. It is no secret that the poor, non-whites, non-urban-dwellers, and women are all groups more likely to identify as religious. I don't think saying all these people are dupes or sheep is the best way for the progressive movement to work toward the betterment of the lives of many constituencies shut out of mainstream discourse. There's a way not to pander to religiously motivated political interest groups, while simultaneously not assigning the faithful to the dumb pile.

    Awhile back, Bitch posted something on The Ninth Wave about her sister-in-law's reluctance to engage with feminists because she was afraid they would judge her stupid. I have seen this time and again with women of color, women of faith, queer women (especially transfolks), and especially low-income and non-urban women. I don't want this for feminism; I don't want this for the Left, in general. We have so much to offer to so many different kinds of people, so many different kinds of people have so much to offer us, let's not cripple ourselves.

    7 Comments:

    Blogger belledame222 said...

    Yeah, the smartest-kid-in-the-class syndrome is alive and well. alas.

    11:00 PM  
    Anonymous Jay Sennett said...

    Excellent, excellent, excellent post. Oh, did I say excellent?!

    I can't stand the condescending attitudes we lefties sometimes adopt. Then we wrap that attitude in bunch of theoretical phrases only we understand. Then we wonder why we can't organize.

    Sometimes we are, indeed, such asshats!

    8:45 AM  
    Blogger EL said...

    Aw, thanks.

    10:44 AM  
    Blogger Jami said...

    If all you do is stand up and yell, "All you poor second-class citizens have to do is what us smarter, whiter folks tell you in order to live better lives! Who's with me?" and then wonder why all those unfortunates don't clamor to join, that pretty much does away with the "smarter" part of your self-description.

    I second Jay's opinion ... the "excellent part.

    10:36 AM  
    Blogger EL said...

    Jami,

    Thanks for stopping by, not only because you posted such a nice comment, but because it turned me onto your excellent blog, which I've never had the chance to visit!

    Right-on.

    1:59 PM  
    Anonymous Bitch | Lab said...

    I've spent a lot of time, actually (and this is to Jay) working with "ordinary" people and doing so as part of academia. I won't get into details now -- it's a long post.

    but here's something I learned: people _like_ theory. people eat that shit right up. what they don't like is the snobbery -- the cultural snobbery. the feeling the walmart is icky. the sense that drinking coors is disgusting and how can those people have no taste.

    and my god their food.

    that is palpable to ordinary people. but theydon't know how to articulate it, and it comes out as anger at intellectuals and theories and big words. but that is not their problems.

    I saw some of the most incredible things happened in a small backwords town, when people were simply treated as intelligent human beings, given -- I don't kid -- academic journal articles and things with big words in them and asked to read them. Saul Alinksy used to have people read Thucydides among other things.

    People are despereate for this stuff b/c it helps makes sense of their lives. They *want* to know things.

    Like EL, I've been trying to raising these issues among lefties for fifteen years now. it burns my ass somtimes. But it burns my ass even more when left intellectuals use their own hangups and pin them on the working class in a folksy bullshit populism that makes it out that what working people want is to for us to stop using twenty five cent words.

    that's not it. they want us to stop acting as if where you shop for your clothes makes you human or not human, to stop acting as if your enjoyment of tasteless music or television shows or football or the WWF means that you're somehow incapable of being treated as a human being. Because that is what people are hurt by on a daily basis, not the word epistemology or heteronormativity.

    I realize the fifteen years I spent on these projects is a drop in the bucket and maybe unique, but the history of anti-intellectualism in the country si deep and pervasive and was perpetrated by the elite in the first place. I hate that, as academics and members of the scribblign classes, we buy into that founding ideological brainwash by pretending we're on anybody's side by thinking that we need to talk down to people.

    135 years ago, people in this country were clamoring to get into ivy league colleges so they cold learn those big worlds

    and poor people like me have clawed our way through all kinds of hell to learn the same thing. I resent it with a passion that intellectuals may have thougt at one time that they needed to talk intellectual baby talk to me because I might have my phee phees hurt by the word "bricoleur".

    2:53 PM  
    Blogger EL said...

    Bitch,

    You are fucking amazing. I couldn't agree more, and I CERTAINLY couldn't express it as articulately.

    Thank you so much for commenting.

    2:45 PM  

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