Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.


The new atheist response to being told to quiet down

May 6th, 2011 12:29 pm | By

Greg Laden puts the matter neatly:

The “new” part of “New Atheism” to me has always been this: You are willing to get up into some[one's] face to make your argument because religion, with its centuries of experience in being on the scene for every aspect of everyone’s life every minute of every day, is already there in the face making its argument. The new atheist response to being told to quiet down is to point out that being told to quiet down (or be more civil or follow certain rules) is step one (or two) in a series of steps that the established religio-normative culture routinely uses to end the argument and let things get back to what they think is normal.

Precisely. And the settled idea that the silence of the atheists is both normal and desirable is the very idea that new atheists want to discredit and dispute and disrupt, so energetic attempts to re-impose the idea are naturally going to irritate. It’s like telling The People’s Campaign for XYZ, “stop campaigning for XYZ.” It’s not going to be taken as useful advice or a friendly tip or a minor disagreement among allies. It’s going to be taken as what it is: rejection of and enmity toward The People’s Campaign.

So it’s not a matter of, we’re all atheists, so don’t take it amiss if some atheists tell other atheists to be atheists in a more covert and unobtrusive way. It’s not a disagreement about a minor side issue. We, gnu atheists, think it is of the essence for atheists to be free to talk back. We don’t consider atheists who 1) tell us not to or 2) call us rude names for doing so, to be On the Same Team.



National trust in god day

May 5th, 2011 4:33 pm | By

Oh I didn’t know it was National Prayer Day. I never do know it’s National Prayer Day. It’s not something that looms large in my schedule. But I got a press release from the Secular Coalition for America, so I read some more of their press releases, and doing that led me to something that mentioned National Prayer Day.

Well I know what it was: it was googling for information on an idiotic house bill making “In God We Trust” the “national motto,” whatever the hell that is. Googling for the one turned up mentions of the other. Life is like that. When the state tells you to do god, news of it turns up on related google searches. Whaddya know.

So it’s National Prayer Day.

…even hard-nosed doctors who have studied spirituality say science supports the belief that prayer brings health benefits…Research has also shown that the death rate of people who attend church regularly is about 30 percent lower than that among people who spend their Sundays doing something else, according to Dr. Lynda Powell, chairman of preventive medicine at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

I beg your pardon?

Let me get this straight. 30% of people who go to church are immortal? Is that what she’s saying?

Is this finding widely known?

Ah, journalism. And prayer. And syntax.

What explains churchgoers’ lower death rate? Is it because God smiles on the faithful?

Science has nothing to say on that question. But Dr. Powell, a leading researcher on spirituality and health, has identified health-promoting outlooks and behaviors that are common to all major religions.

Yes, but health is not the same thing as a “lower death rate.” Does this loon actually think health=a lower death rate?

Anyway. The Secular Coalition sent a letter to the members of the House Judiciary Committee, which the Committee won’t read, because who the hell cares what filthy secularists think. It’s quite sensible though.

The phrase “In God We Trust” was adopted only in 1956 during the McCarthy Era. For a secular nation that claims to provide equality, liberty, and freedom for all, the motto means that the beliefs of theists and nontheists are not treated the same at all.

And to put it more bluntly than the SCA will have wanted to, the state has no business at all telling us to believe in its magical made-up spooky hocus pocus you can’t catch me god. Furthermore, I don’t trust god; I think god is a shit; a non-existent shit, yes, but a shit all the same.



Bad things

May 5th, 2011 11:08 am | By

This morning I keep seeing bad stuff at the Guardian, via different directions – Terry Glavin at Facebook, Norm at Normblog, like that. I’ve seen so much bad stuff this morning that I feel as if I ought to point at it in disgust.

Like Adam Curtis at CisF, via Norm.

The horrific thing about Osama bin Laden was that he helped to kill thousands of innocent people throughout the world. But he was also in a strange way a godsend to the west. He simplified the world.

That “but” is interesting. So is that “the horrific thing.” The but is interesting because given what comes before, why have a “but” at all? There is no but. The first sentence is all we need to know. There is no “but” after that.

We’ll be reminded by heroes of anti-imperialism that the imperialists and neo-cons helped to kill thousands of innocent people too. True enough, but not as the goal. Not as the goal or a goal. Not on purpose.

That’s small comfort to the people killed. But what about their relatives and friends? What about the injured? I should think it makes a difference to them.

At any rate, it is different. Bin Laden killed people in order to kill people. Bin Laden wanted them dead, and he wanted more dead, as many as possible. He never whispered a word of regret for Gladys Wundowa or anyone else; he beamed with joy about his success at killing hundreds or thousands at a blow.

There is no “but” after that. There is nothing else about him that matters, that is in contrast to “the horrific thing” about him that was killing people and rejoicing to have done so. That isn’t “the horrific thing” about bin Laden, it just is bin Laden.

Al-Qaida became the new Soviet Union, and in the process Bin Laden became a demonic, terrifyingly powerful figure brooding in a cave while he controlled and directed the al-Qaida network throughout the world…

I just remarked yesterday that I went on thinking that way for an embarrassingly long time. Adam Curtis is still at it.

Then there’s Azzam Tamimi.

Soon after the fall of Hosni Mubarak I visited my old friend, the Hamas leader Khalid Mish’al, in Damascus. He told me he was sure the change in Egypt, which he expected would be followed by similar changes in other Arab countries, meant that it would not be too long before Palestine was free.

My friends in Gaza would tell me the same thing, and so would my relatives in Hebron and the diaspora. They all believed that the Mubarak regime was an impediment to the Palestinian struggle for freedom; once the Egyptian people were free, a genuine democracy in Egypt would support the Palestinians.

Free. Free, freedom, free – via Hamas.



Despite the disdain of

May 4th, 2011 2:58 pm | By

So many things are stupid. This is stupid.

Our culture has become impoverished by certainty…Doubt and its religious cousin agnosticism, a word rarely heard nowadays, may have fallen out of fashion, but they have much to teach us, despite the disdain of Richard Dawkins, who famously wrote in The God Delusion: “I am agnostic only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden.”

And then Christopher Lane cites the disdain of some religious boffin, right?

No.

No, his only example of disdain for doubt (and agnosticism) is Richard Dawkins.

That’s stupid.

It’s just plain stupid. As if* Dawkins were the most dogmatic person on the face of the earth! As if there were no other examples! As if theists were all full of admirable doubt while atheists are all brainlessly certain. As if Lane couldn’t think of one single other person to stand for excessive certainty.

It’s stupid, it’s lazy, it’s stale, it’s cheap. It’s time for people to do better.

The debates about religion and science that flared in the 19th century predate by almost two centuries the “new” atheism that has evolved today, undermining many of its claims for originality.

It doesn’t make claims for originality. Stupid, lazy, stale, and cheap.

*Even if you agree that Dawkins is especially “certain,” even in this particular passage, which I don’t.



Witty Shmuley

May 4th, 2011 11:47 am | By

Shmuley Boteach has a laugh at the idea of atheist military chaplains. I think the idea of atheists chaplains is silly in general, but I can certainly see that there ought to be some kind of chaplain-equivalent for people in the military who aren’t religious. Boteach’s objections are somewhat problematic.

And what comfort will they offer dying soldiers, G-d forbid (oops! Even that doesn’t work). Will they say, “Game over. You’re going to a place of complete oblivion. Thank you for your service.”?

Well, what comfort can anyone offer dying soldiers? What comfort will Boteach offer?

I don’t even know, actually. It’s my understanding that Judaism doesn’t actually believe in an afterlife, so what does he have to say that’s different from “a place of complete oblivion”? I don’t know, but if it is in fact different from that, what reason is there to think it’s true? Maybe he says you’re going to a place of infinite ice cream, but if he does, he’s telling an untruth. Why is he the one who is giggling and making fun?

In the same way that it might be uncomfortable for a Jewish soldier to talk about his deepest issues with, say, a Catholic Priest, it is arguably just as uncomfortable for an atheist soldier to talk to the same Priest.

Gee, you think?!

Still it would seem that those who profess an absence of belief can’t really be religious or spiritual chaplains. If you’re an atheist then what you see is what you get. There is no other reality — higher or lower — and the word spiritual is nothing but a crude con.

Well, Shmuley, how do you know there is an “other reality”? What do you know about it? What is your evidence for it? How do you know it’s not nastier than this reality we “get”? How do you know anything at all about it?

He notes that his atheist friends will say things like that, but he feels no obligation to answer or say anything cogent; instead he just says…you know what he says:

…the new atheists, like Richard Dawkins, demonstrate an intolerance and condescension to people of faith that is very similar to what one sadly finds among some of the most close-minded of religious people.

Therefore after death we go to a place of infinite ice cream.



A moment of petulance

May 3rd, 2011 4:11 pm | By

One thing. We’ve all been seeing every inch of tape there is of bin Laden over and over again since Sunday evening. That one where his best pal grabs him by the hat for a hug and hangs on to the hat as if it were handles – that’s a goofy one. But that’s not the one I’m going to say about.

It’s the one where he’s holding a microphone. What’s up with that? Why does he hold it in that affected limp loose “look how special I am” way? I want to know. I’ve seen that clip about 50 times now, so I want to know.

I didn’t go outside and run around yelling “we’re number one,” so I get to ask why he held the mike in that silly way. If there’s anything I don’t like it’s affectation.



Catching up

May 3rd, 2011 3:52 pm | By

Wait…

While the U.S. government might have preferred to cremate Bin Laden’s remains prior to disposal, Muslim tradition forbids cremation because it’s inconsistent with the resurrection of the body.

Um…so is rotting. Is Muslim tradition unaware of this?



The fundamental question of the truth

May 3rd, 2011 3:25 pm | By

Scott Aikin and Robert Talisse have doubts about Mary Warnock’s way of defending the social value of religious belief.

According to religious believers, their beliefs are not merely useful social instruments or efficient means for instilling good moral habits.  They are rather commitments to very particular metaphysical, ontological, and epistemological views.  These views provide the basis for the moral and communal practices among religious believers that Warnock finds socially valuable.  But the social value of the practices provides no defense for the underlying views, all of which are, we contend, false.  No discussion of the merits of religious practices and institutions should be permitted to evade the fundamental question of the truth of distinctively religious claims.

That is what I too think also likewise. I think that is one of the things that separate me and other gnus from the “be nice to religion” crowd. They are very concerned with political, instrumental matters like unity, cohesion, community, universal affection, sensitivity, solidarity, outreach, mutual understanding, and avoiding the remotest possibility of offending anyone by disputing an idea. We are more concerned with trying to think clearly and honestly about particular metaphysical, ontological, and epistemological views. Their concerns are more social or political, ours are more epistemological. This makes a difference.



Rushdie on Pakistan and bin Laden

May 2nd, 2011 6:09 pm | By

Excellent, no need to quote Facebook updates any more; Salman has written an article on the subject.

Many of us didn’t believe in the image of bin Laden as a wandering Old Man of the Mountains, living on plants and insects in an inhospitable cave somewhere on the porous Pakistan-Afghan border…Bin Laden was born filthy rich and died in a rich man’s house, which he had painstakingly built to the highest specifications. The U.S. administration confesses it was “shocked” by the elaborate nature of the compound.

Died in a rich man’s house, with women and children carefully placed around him as shields. What a guy.

Osama bin Laden, the world’s most wanted man, was found living at the end of a dirt road 800 yards from the Abbottabad military academy, Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point or Sandhurst, in a military cantonment where soldiers are on every street corner, just about 80 miles from the Pakistani capital Islamabad. This extremely large house had neither a telephone nor an Internet connection. And in spite of this we are supposed to believe that Pakistan didn’t know he was there, and that the Pakistani intelligence, and/or military, and/or civilian authorities did nothing to facilitate his presence in Abbottabad, while he ran al Qaeda, with couriers coming and going, for five years?

Well when you put it like that…it doesn’t seem very credible, does it.

Pakistan’s neighbor India, badly wounded by the November 26, 2008, terrorist attacks on Mumbai, is already demanding answers. As far as the anti-Indian jihadist groups are concerned—Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Muhammad—Pakistan’s support for such groups, its willingness to provide them with safe havens, its encouragement of such groups as a means of waging a proxy war in Kashmir and, of course, in Mumbai—is established beyond all argument. In recent years these groups have been reaching out to the so-called Pakistani Taliban to form new networks of violence…

Pakistan needs to get its act together.



Red faces in Pakistan

May 2nd, 2011 10:16 am | By

Salman Rushdie’s Facebook page is an interesting place today. He noticed right off the bat that the location of bin Laden’s vacation home raises some tricky questions. So did William Dalrymple. 13 hours ago – which was 9 last night Pacific Time, so before Obama made the announcement.

Dalrymple: In Abbotabad next to the Pakistan’s main military academy. Funny that.

Rushdie: That’s right. Army town. Just the place for the world’s most wanted man to live unobserved.

Quite. I’ve been trying to picture it. Giant compound, 8 times the size of anything else in the neighborhood; 12 to 18 foot walls; mystery occupants; important military academy a few hundred meters away; retired military people all around. Nobody notices; nobody worries; nobody asks questions; nobody investigates.

Really?

I think not.

Rushdie in an update today, with a link to Simon Tisdall’s Guardian article:

Damn right it’s “embarrassing.” Osama purpose-builds a high-security luxury compound in a Pak military cantonment, 800 yards from Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point or Sandhurst, and for YEARS runs al-Qaeda from it, his couriers coming and going… and we’re supposed to believe Pakistan wasn’t protecting him? (Mullah Omar, it’s widely rumoured, is in another ISI safe house.)

On Salil Tripathi’s page, a friend of Salil’s said

Per the NYT the ISI are claiming it was a joint operation. Ha ha

Salil replied

Yes, they were rolling joints, I suppose!

We live in interesting times.



It’s all about a beautiful dress

May 1st, 2011 3:56 pm | By

Oh yes child (that is, girl) beauty pageants, one of my favorite things. It’s so obviously a good idea to train girls from infancy to act, move, walk, and look as much like prostitutes as possible. Australia had, in its innocence, forgotten to have such things, but they are now on their way their thanks to the helpful interventions of US pageanters.

The anti-pageant groups claim pageants sexualise children

But the pro-pageant people, absurdly, say they don’t. No no, it’s

a positive and fun-filled family occasion that will boost participants’ self-confidence.
Self-confidence at what? Attracting sexual attention? Why would anyone want to boost a six-year-old girl’s confidence at attracting sexual attention? If it’s so positive and fun-filled, why don’t they dress up little boys the same way?
I’ll tell you why. Because it’s degrading and slavish, that’s why, and it would be an outrage to train little boys to do something degrading and slavish, but it’s perfectly all right to train little girls to do that. Why is it? Well because that’s supposed to be their job, and it’s ok to start teaching to be good at it before they can read.

Annette Hill, owner of the Texas parent company Universal Royalty Beauty Pageant, who arrives in Australia a week before the pageant, said…”I don’t like golf but I am not going to go to a golf tournament and protest.”

Not relevant. It’s not about liking to do something oneself, it’s about doing things to very young children – very young girls.

”If you are looking at children in a sexual way, you should be ashamed of yourself and something is wrong with you. It’s all about a beautiful dress, a beautiful child with lots of personality performing on stage.”

Right, because the whole thing has nothing whatever to do with sex; the little girls are not dressed in a sexualized way, they are not loaded with makeup, they are performing on stage like any other child singing or reciting a poem.

However, Glenn Cupit, senior lecturer in child development at the University of South Australia, believes the young pageant participants are instructed to dress and behave in an adult way.

”The title is ‘child beauty pageant’ but if you look at the way the children are dressed and required to act, it’s actually a child sexualisation pageant,” he said. ”The children are put into skimpy clothes, they are taught to do bumps and grinds. It’s not looking at children’s beauty. It’s a particular idea of what beauty is, which is based on a highly sexualised understanding of female beauty.”

Exactly like the highly sexualized understanding of female beauty that mandates that female ballet dancers, gymnasts and ice skaters all have to wear the equivalent of bathing suits while male ballet dancers, gymnasts and ice skaters wear long tights and often long sleeves. Women have to look as naked and vulnerable as possible while men have to look as different from that as possible.

I’m off to play some golf.



Despised is despised

Apr 30th, 2011 12:35 pm | By

I sometimes see indignation about claims that atheists are a despised minority, on the grounds that other despised minorities had it much worse. That was one of Karla McLaren’s many claims.

As you may recall, this word ["accommodationist"] was first used by black Americans in the Voting Rights era against people who were seen as being too subservient and too accommodating to whites. I could write a whole ‘nother post about how interesting it is for atheists to imagine that their struggle is similar to that of African Americans.

But not everyone considers the comparison obviously wrong.

Long after blacks and Jews have made great strides, and even as homosexuals gain respect, acceptance and new rights, there is still a group that lots of Americans just don’t like much: atheists.

That’s the first line of the piece. Well: is it false?

It seems to me to be obviously not false. The air is thick with complaints about atheists, considered as a group and considered guilty as members of the group. This is not to say that atheists are as despised as any other group, nor is it to say that they are as badly treated as any other group. It’s just to say that they are despised as a group. It’s funny, in a way, that it’s often the very people who are calling atheists names are the ones scorning the idea that atheists are despised. McLaren is a good example of that, too. A torrent of atheist-bashing plus a smug dismissal of the idea that atheists get bashed.

As with other national minority groups, atheism is enjoying rapid growth…designed to overcome the understandable reluctance to admit atheism have found that as many as 60 million Americans — a fifth of the population — are not believers. Our nonreligious compatriots should be accorded the same respect as other minorities.

I’ll look forward to that.



The savage shaming stunning sullying gleeful fist

Apr 29th, 2011 5:14 pm | By

I got in a slight brawl with Chris Stedman at Facebook just now. I’m a brawler…but then so is Chris, in his way, only he thinks he isn’t.

He started a thread about “shock horror that atheists sometimes compare the atheist movement and the civil rights movement.” There was lots of obliging shock-horror from his friends - oh yes that is shocking and horrible; that kind of thing. I blew my nose and then commenced brawling, by saying it’s not about saying atheists have it as bad as blacks, it’s about pointing out similarities in the way the movements and the backlashes against them play out. We brawled for awhile, then he had to go get a haircut, but just before that he revealed that he doesn’t see any hostility in Karla McLaren’s guest post at his place.

Now that surprises me. It doesn’t surprise me that he thinks I’m a pain in the ass, of course, but it does surprise me that he thinks that post is hostility-free. Really?

the Four (Dennett excluded) have put those ideas forward at the end of a fist…the form requires that you come out swinging from an extremist position…A polemic [is] made for igniting passions and selling books, for forcing sudden and unsupported change, and for shaming any opposing voices into stunned silence…I often cringe at the savage glee with which these people carry out their attacks and sully the communal discourse.

Not hostile? What is that, friendly?



Ignore that man between the pictures

Apr 29th, 2011 4:54 pm | By

Nick Cohen on republicanism v the monarchy in Time is very droll, because of a certain inconsequence on the part of the editors. It goes like this:

When the 18th century English dissenter Richard Price, friend of Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, warned that fawning before royalty produced “idolatry as gross and stupid as that of the ancient heathens,” he aptly titled his denunciation “A Discourse on the Love of Our Country.”
Ha! Never mind all these pesky words about something or other, just look at the pretty snaps. Oooooooo she don’ahf look luvley in that tyara.
But whatever the complicating factors, only royal propagandists doubt that the marriage of this bland couple is failing to excite the nation.
Okye! I don’t know what “propagandist” means anyway, so I’ll just watch the nice video.
But if the media had taken their cameras to the beaches, parks and pubs of Britain, they would have found millions of others who no longer cared for the spectacle and maybe, just maybe, were beginning to agree with Price, Paine, Jefferson and Franklin that their country deserved something better.
Brilliantly funny, do admit.


Pop culture interlude

Apr 29th, 2011 12:28 pm | By

So James Spader is one of the group of possible successors to Steve Carrell. That would be fun. I thought he was brilliant in Boston Legal.

I liked the red mittens. The oven mitt thing was really mean. The red mittens repaired that.



This is not a job for bomb makers

Apr 28th, 2011 4:43 pm | By

Another thought about “Why Do We Need New Atheists?” (subtle way of announcing a desire to get rid of us, that title). The post is actually a pretty rich study in scapegoating and other forms of disguised hostility, so despite its nastiness and wrongness, it repays a close look.

(The disguised part really interests me. I’ve said before, probably more than once, that one thing I really dislike is hostility or rivalry that tries to dress itself up as its own opposite. I really hate it when people are obviously brawling or competing but pretend that they’re just joking or “teasing” or being absent-minded. I especially hate it when women do that, because it fits a stereotype about us.

This may be one reason Gnus get so much stick. We mostly don’t do that “oh I’m just a sweet little thing” routine – so we leave people plenty of room to pretend shock-horror at our failure to dissemble.)

There is a fear among New Atheists that moderating and dissenting voices are trying to erase the polemic as an avenue of approach. But that’s a polemical overreaction. No one is suggesting that we burn New Atheist books or silence their authors. Those bells have been rung. We can’t un-ring them, nor should we. The Four Horsemen of New Atheism did their work well, but they cannot help us clean up the battlefields they created. That’s not their job. The clean-up, the strategizing, the community rebuilding, the future imagining, and the alliance-making — this is not a job for bomb makers.

On the one hand, no one is suggesting that we silence gnu atheist authors (and where would you get the authority to do that if you were suggesting that?), but on the other hand, this is not a job for bomb makers. In other words, actually yes, we do want you to be silent now, because it’s time to “clean up the battlefields” you created.

Only we didn’t create any battlefields. McLaren loves her some metaphors, and she lets them run away with her. We didn’t create any god damn battlefields, and there is nothing to clean up. What is she talking about? “The clean-up, the strategizing, the community rebuilding, the future imagining, and the alliance-making” – oh that – she’s talking about The Great Return to Conformity. She’s talking about resuming the status quo. She’s talking about restoring The Group to its former hegemony by rebuilding community and making alliances.

We know she’s doing that, because she’s saying we can’t do it. Thus we know she’s not talking about just ordinary life, because how could she possibly say we can’t help with that or that it’s not our job? She couldn’t – so she’s talking about a kind of community and alliance that of its nature excludes us. She’s doing her best, in an opaque way, to tell us we are too weird and extreme and abnormal to be part of the Community.

It’s sinister stuff, frankly. I don’t think she intended it to be, but I do think she has a sad lack of awareness about the resonances of her own rhetoric.

That’s my thought.



God is loving and holy

Apr 28th, 2011 11:13 am | By

Greta Christina pointed out a little nightmare of a post by William Lane Craig at his wittily-named blog “Reasonable Faith,” saying that genocide is ok because God decided.

I haven’t properly read Greta’s article yet because I wanted to read Craig first. I’m doing that now.

He says about the genocide of the Canaanites.

These stories offend our moral sensibilities.  Ironically, however, our moral sensibilities in the West have been largely, and for many people unconsciously, shaped by our Judaeo-Christian heritage, which has taught us the intrinsic value of human beings, the importance of dealing justly rather than capriciously, and the necessity of the punishment’s fitting the crime.  The Bible itself inculcates the values which these stories seem to violate.

What? The story violates our moral sensibilities but oh, haha, those moral sensibilities come from the place that says the story is fine.

Oh no you don’t. None of that, bub. That’s called having it both ways, or eating your cake and having it, or a contradiction.

The story violates our moral sensibilities because we have better moral sensibilities than the people who wrote the bible. We have the benefit of many centuries of thinking and learning and cumulative wisdom. We did not get them from the bible.

According to the version of divine command ethics which I’ve defended, our moral duties are constituted by the commands of a holy and loving God.  Since God doesn’t issue commands to Himself,  He has no moral duties to fulfill.  He is certainly not subject to the same moral obligations and prohibitions that we are.  For example, I have no right to take an innocent life.  For me to do so would be murder.  But God has no such prohibition.  He can give and take life as He chooses.

How does Craig know this god is “holy and loving”? He doesn’t. I don’t know that about Craig’s god, and I don’t know that Craig knows it either. I don’t want to be subject to Craig’s cosmic dictator who can kill anyone he damn well feels like killing. I’m not going to agree to Craig’s PR for the dictator.

Moreover, if we believe, as I do, that God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation.  We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy.  Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives.

So then all children should be murdered. It totally makes sense – that way they’re guaranteed god’s grace, while if they live to get older, they might lose it, by being gay or an atheist or an imbiber of spirits. Those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy, so what possible reason could there be not to kill all children right now?

Anyway, the best news is, it turns out that Christianity is good while Islam is bad.

Christians believe that God is all-loving, while Muslims believe that God loves only Muslims.  Allah has no love for unbelievers and sinners.  Therefore, they can be killed indiscriminately.  Moreover, in Islam God’s omnipotence trumps everything, even His own nature.  He is therefore utterly arbitrary in His dealing with mankind.  By contrast Christians hold that God’s holy and loving nature determines what He commands.

So if god kills you tomorrow it’s because of god’s holy and loving nature, even if you don’t go to heaven like the babies and children but instead go to the bad place. You’re pleased, right?



Oh hai, why can’t the new atheists be nice?

Apr 27th, 2011 5:18 pm | By

Why can’t they, asks “interfaith” atheist (don’t ask me, I don’t know how that works) Chris Stedman via a guest post on his blog by someone called Karla McLaren. He says “It’s a hugely informative and clear-eyed assessment of the state of the atheist movement.” I don’t agree. I think it’s just the 14 millionth installment of “new atheists are bad and mean ick.”

Atheism, McLaren informs us, is more visible thanks to those books by the four New Ones, or as she calls them, “the Fractious Four.” Yes really.

I call them the Fractious Four, which has a cool superhero ring to it (even though their superpower is to argue with everybody).

Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris have written polemics against religion, and true to the polemical form, they’ve taken a moral absolutist stance which asserts that religion is orders of magnitude more harmful than it is beneficial (if it is beneficial at all). Dennett is a philosopher, and his work is nuanced and, well, philosophical – and I often wonder why he’s included with the polemicists. However, he is, so on we go.

We do? Why do we? Why not not include Dennett if you think he doesn’t belong? Why swallow the clichés whole in order to barf them back at us, even the ones you don’t agree with?

The Fractious Four have put forward some very attention-grabbing ideas in a post-Twin Towers world, where many of us have seriously questioned the purpose and limits of faith and supernaturalism. However, the Four (Dennett excluded) have put those ideas forward at the end of a fist, and in a way that questions the sanity and morality of anyone who disagrees with them. But see, that’s the point of a polemic … you put forward the most extreme version of your argument, and you don’t make any room for moderating views.

A polemic is a deeply emotional appeal made not just with anger, but with rage; not just with sadness, but with despair; not just with fear, but with gut-wrenching terror. If it’s done skillfully, a truly masterful polemic is melded with a careful overlay of logic, scholarship, and verbal skill. A polemic is made to be powerful and arresting, and it can be a very beautiful thing indeed. But it’s not something you should make a career of, because it’s exhausting (both to create, and eventually, to witness).

And so on, and so on. It’s all like that – treacly and belligerent at the same time, and of course wildly inaccurate in the usual way of gnu-haters. This is the basin of warm sick that Stedman urges on our attention.

The Four Horsemen of New Atheism did their work well, but they cannot help us clean up the battlefields they created. That’s not their job. The clean-up, the strategizing, the community rebuilding, the future imagining, and the alliance-making — this is not a job for bomb makers.

In order to move forward, we need to rely on more than mere polemics. How about if we try dialectics?[iii] Dialectics can be just as fun as polemics (and they require just as much skill), but dialectics have the added benefit of creating community, building intelligent synthesis out of seemingly intractable positions, and teaching people how to manage – rather than merely weaponize – their emotions.

It’s one long “shut up, ur doin it rong, stop doin it the way ur doin it and do it the way I do it, stop arguing and get busy creating community.” It’s written in a fey style so that it perhaps comes across as friendly, but it is in fact very unfriendly indeed. It’s packed with fiercely hostile language about argumentative atheists and their rage and extremism. With friends like these we’ve already got all the enemies we could possibly find room for.



Definitions

Apr 27th, 2011 12:40 pm | By

The question is, how do we decide what “new atheism” is? What is new atheism, who gets to decide, how do we know?

The answer turns out to be that we simply define it as that which we dislike. Easy. Circular, but easy.

Rob Knop for instance:

Do the New Atheists really believe that they aren’t being argumentative, aggreessive, and generally dickish in their attacks on religion? Or, are the religious the “other” against whom any sort of rude behavior is justified?

There we go – easy. “The” New Atheists are – always and everywhere – being argumentative, aggreessive, and generally dickish in their attacks on religion. End of story. Simple. “I dislike ‘New Atheism’ because ‘New Atheists’ be dickish and I know this because I dislike them and I dislike them because I know this.”

The anecdote=data version:

Thanks Josh – that is a really helpful description of New Atheism. I have a friend who is a New Atheist and I find it really tough to discuss religion rationally with him…. I fail to understand why he feels so strongly that all religion is bad, and also why he feels so strongly that religion undermines science.

I know someone who fits your description therefore all New Atheists fit your description.

The reliable Anthony McCarthy is a stalwart group-definer:

I use the term “new atheist” for atheists who demonstrate that they practice negative stereotyping of religious people, practice bigotry, false characterizations and similar, negative things.

He uses the term that way and then he proceeds to make large sweeping generalizations about “new atheists” plural, thus adding his mite to the bonfire being readied to fry the despised group. (I don’t mean “fry” literally, Joe. Relax.)

There’s the “they all don’t ever read anything” claim:

NA’s often complain that their intemperate approach is a “style.” I disagree. I think it’s a way of casually dismissing all the hard questions that thoughtful people (like Max Weber that I mentioned above) ask. The pose of NA’s isn’t just style, it’s contempt for everything outside of their small circle of nerdly concerns.

There’s the definition by someone called Raging Bee

The only thing “new” about the “New Atheists” is their new wave of often pointless obnoxiousness, and their willingness to say things that are often as insulting as they are dead wrong.

And on and on. You get the idea. The point is – there’s a faction of people who know one big thing, which is that they loathe and detest “the New Atheists,” and they define the group they hate by saying what it is they hate about them.

It’s not a very thoughtful or enlightening way to analyze a subject.



A death in the family

Apr 26th, 2011 3:15 pm | By

Bugger!!

The mother eagle at Norfolk Botanical Garden was hit by a plane and killed this morning.

The eaglets are alone on the nest; the father is in a tree nearby. (They’ll be ok. If the father can’t provide food the eaglets will be removed. They’re almost old enough to feed themselves anyway.)

Dammit.

Update: more here. (Starts with horrible goddy ad though. You’ve been warned.)