“Geds”, I hope you don’t take insult to my oppositions; I am interested in dialog, and furthermore hope that you don’t silence my voice by deleting this. In addition to my regular thoughts of you, I also worry about the searching people who stumble upon your posts and don’t hear other sides to your stance.You know what? He should worry that searching people stumble upon my blog and don’t hear the other side of the story. Because my stance is that my life has gotten better without religion, that there’s little out there to convince me to go back, and that the institution of religion is pretty much screwed up. (Also, he wasn't interested in discussion. Seeing as he was a long-time reader who only decided to start commenting after I wrote a post entitled "How to Talk to an Evangelical," wherein he immediately started telling me all the things I was doing wrong and didn't understand. And the prooftexting. Always with the prooftexting.) I have no real agenda. I only have my story. The fact that my story is about somebody who grew up religious then found the whole thing is untenable is terrifying and dangerous to some people. The other thing I do is actively encourage anyone else who has a story about religion to share it, too. A lot of those stories contain similar things to mine. Whether they do or not, I try to engage with the people who take the time to post here. Unless they’re just trying to proselytize (um, for religion. Anyone who wants to share the good news of an awesome band or delicious beer is welcome). I don’t have the time or patience for that. My stance on proselytizers on my blog is simple: Fuck ‘em. They’re not worth the time. So I have this to say to all the “New Atheists” out there (who probably aren’t listening, but…hey): Keep it up. You’re fighting a fight we can’t afford to lose as a society. And anyone who says you’re going to far should realize that you’re insulating them from the wrath of the fundamentalist by your very existence.
Friday, July 10, 2009
In Defense of not Being Hospitable
Reading PZ Myers’ latest response to attacks against those horrible, hateful, petty New Atheists has gotten me thinking. Especially since this comes the day after I learned that PZ regularly reads Slacktivist. Yes, that Slacktivist. The one written by Fred Clark, a not-at-all-stereotypical Baptist. I’ve recently said that I’m starting to see what the “New Atheists” do in an increasingly positive light. That doesn’t mean I fully agree with them. For instance, although I read and appreciated god is not Great, I tend to argue that Hitchens cherry-picked his way to his thesis that “religion poisons everything.” I don’t think that religion poisons everything by any stretch of the imagination. Religion isn’t necessarily a force for good at all (or even a majority of the) time and by the time it gets tangled with politics and social mores and control it does more harm than good, but it doesn’t poison everything. Still, as a rhetorical device Hitchens’ book is spot on. Too often we’re subjected to the idea that religion is this benevolent force for good in the world and that the religious can’t be questioned. What god is not Great does is define the arena. On the other side we have those who say that without god everyone is a horrible, depraved person who would rape babies six times before breakfast. The next step is to say, “Okay, who has proof?” Hitchens can point to Catholic collaboration with Nazi Germany, any number of horrid Biblical laws, intra-religious violence like in Bosnia and Rwanda, and any number of other things. Those on the opposite side of the debate usually resort to Bible passages about how the flesh is weak or arguments like, “Well, Hitler and Stalin were atheists, so there!” Then there’s the favored canard about how Darwinism = Social Darwinism = all evolutionists call for the killing of the weaker races. This argument then gets repeated ad nauseum. But an interesting thing happens. Every time it comes up those who agree with Hitchens can provide actual examples to back up the argument. Those who disagree can only offer the same tired rants that are then proven false time and again. For not only are the arguments about Social Darwinism and Hitler and Stalin substantively wrong, we have plenty of examples of people who are not religious and also not immoral. This, unfortunately, is an evolutionary argument instead of a revolutionary one. It takes time to build up the critical mass of the arguments in to a larger social movement that should, hopefully, one day stand up and say, “You know what? We’re going to stop listening to these idiots who claim that only religion offers morality.” That’s a generational thing, though. The child of a religious parent casts off the familial religion and then teaches his or her child to not think of religion as the final arbiter of right and wrong. But certain things need to happen first. The main thing is that we need to get rid of the attitude of a large number of soon-to-be parents. Specifically the attitude that says, “I haven’t been to church in ten years, but now I’m about to have a kid and I don’t know how to raise him without the morals of the church.” That’s been a more-or-less default position. But if that parent has also recently read Hitchens they might think, “Y’know…never mind.” This is why those arguments must be allowed in the public sphere and cannot be suppressed. Similarly, the harshest critics of creation “science” are generally the ones leading the charge when jackasses like Rick Perry try to appoint horribly incompetent and politically dangerous people like Cynthia Dunbar to head the Texas School Board. This is an issue where we cannot afford to be moderate or accomodationist in our stances. Dominionist nut jobs cannot be allowed to decide on the policies of our public school system. Not only is it bad for the country, it’s bad for the poor children who will be poorly served. Yes, Ken Miller was one of the key voices at Dover v. Kitzmiller when real science won out of religious superstition. In the future courts are probably far more likely to call Ken Miller to testify than PZ Myers. And that’s fine. You don’t need to be a “New Atheist” to want creationism as far from the classroom as possible. In fact there are any number of religious people out there who see why only evolution should be taught in the classroom. I was once one of them. I went to church on Sunday and took honors biology, chemistry, and physics Monday through Friday in high school. If someone had come in even then and said my high school needed to start teaching creationism I would have laughed them out of the room. But even if Ken Miller can hold the line in the courtroom we still need PZ Myers, Daniel Dennett, and Richard Dawkins to do what they do and hold the line in the court of public opinion. Anybody who says that they’re doing more harm than good doesn’t understand the nature of the religious opposition. At the very least (and believe me, I would argue that they do far more than this), they distract the creationists. Most people in the evangelical and fundamentalist circles don’t have a clue what Myers or Dawkins actually say or believe. Their lack of belief in god and desire for actual scientific exploration are turned in to some weird notion that they have absolutely claimed there is no god and science can prove it. This is then turned in to some sort of weird atheist-scientific conspiracy to destroy religion and enact Social Darwinian programs to create the ideal atheistic state or some other such tomfoolery. I think I’ve mentioned it before, but I first learned of Dawkins and Dennett when I was still in church. As I was in my transitional period I found a copy of Jonathan Miller’s Brief History of Disbelief. In the program Miller talks to Dawkins. I was surprised to realize that, far from being a fire-breathing demagogue, he was a witty, urbane, and seemingly rather polite individual. I liked Dawkins. I similarly found that Christopher Hitchens was humorous and thoughtful and far more moderate in his views and willing to hear his opponents out than I’d been led to believe. Then, of course, there was yesterday’s revelation that PZ reads Slacktivist. The thing is, the hard-core religious don’t give a shit about any of this. They need an enemy. It’s directly analogous to the “global war on terror.” The Bush Administration needed a latter-day Soviet Union to fight against so it started finding terrorists under every rock and decrying anyone and everyone as somehow complicit in a plot to destroy the United States and capable of doing so. Of course, unlike Saddam Hussein science does have the ability to win the fight it finds itself in. That’s what has the Discovery Institute and Answers in Genesis and all their ilk running scared. That’s why those who are entrenched in conflict with science fight as hard as they do and use the tactics they use. That’s why if there were no PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins, or Daniel Dennett they’d be going after Ken Miller and the Templeton Institute. Those who espouse a fundamentalist and literalist religion are not trustworthy allies. They take the admonition in Matthew 12:30 seriously: “Who ever is not with me is against me; and he who does not gather with me scatters.” Right now it's convenient for the fundies to pretend they want to work with scientists as long as everyone is in an alliance of sorts against the New Atheists. As soon as they're out of the picture, though, enemy of my enemy stops being a friend. The truth is, too, that it’s not just scientists who are in danger. Those liberal religious types who think evolution is a pretty neat idea are in their crosshairs, too. Look at how much shit Obama and Clinton have gotten because they are Democrats who don’t follow the gospel of godandRepublicanParty. This is a zero-sum game for the literalist Christians. It’s one they’re losing and they know it. So they double-back and attempt to get Cynthia Dunbar on the Texas BOE or get children to go to the Creation Museum instead of the Field Museum of Natural History. They whine and bitch and moan that they’re given no voice, no quarter, when they really get way more airtime than they should and would not offer the same courtesy to their opponents. I may not be a famous internet atheist, but I have to deal with this too. I’m one of those formerly religious types who alternately scares and infuriates my former brethren (and sistren, I suppose). When one of them gets their claws in to me I instantly find myself in a no-win situation. Everything I say is taken as some sort of bitterness, anger, or hardening my heart against god, my decision to leave religion behind is automatically assumed to be based on some single, horrible moment that I need to find healing for, and if I don’t moderate my own position or make sure to include some positive, fluffy things about my religious days then I’m apparently doing it all wrong. To wit, from a heated discussion back in April: