Monday, December 24, 2007

The Triumph of Reason

"Moderate believers simply compound the problem by providing respectability and cover for the extremists of their ilk. Do I appreciate the more accepting people among the faithful? Sure. Ultimately, though, they are still responsible for perpetuating and propagating their worldview. If we could get to the point where the cafeteria Christians and Muslims are taken out of the equation, we could effectively stamp out the religious violence that occurs every day because it would be acceptable to excoriate faith-based belief systems. We could do exactly what Sam Harris talks about in his book, The End of Faith, which describes the effectiveness of ridicule as a tool for social change. As long as it is taboo to criticize religion, that will be impossible.


If Ms. Pollitt is looking for a one-track route to de-conversion, she'll likely be looking from now until the day that she dies. Every person is different and will respond to the arguments against religion in many ways."

Kelly O'Connor,, December 18, 2007
The first part is a familiar line for many that I agree wholeheartedly with. The last part is something that not many of the whiners realize. I keep hearing these funny solutions, like "Scandinavia has a good welfare system, so welfare will make people secular - not angry atheism". Or it may be some other solution (or most likely non-solution) that incorporates everything but honest arguments for Atheism and rational thinking.

To show how silly this is, let me dwell with the welfare state argument a bit: Scandinavia also has had protestant state churches, homogenous populations, was relieved of religious bigots when the religious bigots went to America in the 1800s, was christened so late we still call it Jul (as in Yule) instead of Christmas and we have cool languages.
I don't know, but it seems to me that welfare itself is not some magical formular for secularisation. I'm all for welfare though, but it won't be enough. (Yeah I know I said I was a Libertarian in my previous post but as it goes: "We're all social democrats". I think Post-Libertarian could be a good expression for me. )

Anyway. Most important: it so happens that religious bigotry many places blocks introduction of state welfare either directly or indirectly. What do you do then? I think it's an open question if USA becomes as secular as Norway first or starts using the same welfare state model first. I wouldn't bet that introducing the welfare state in USA is somehow the easier way to making it a godless satanic darwinian country.
Now as Kelly here points out, people are different. The God Delusion or the RRS for that matter does not work with irrational new age hippies who keep crystal pyramids under their beds. But it might work for a guy who just happened to grow up in a religious area without ever making a conscious choice to join the religion that he belongs to and who's generally a rational person.
In short, there are a few billion people in the world who are still not Atheists, and just as all these people have their particular tastes in sex, politics, interior decorating, music etc. - in the same way they will respond quite differently to Atheist arguments. So we need lots of different Atheist or secular arguments. What we don't need is that people shut up.
There's a lot of things that religious conservatives don't like: New Atheism, feminism, LGBT rights, welfare state, science and probably much more. Much, much, more. Think of these things as fronts, like in a war. The more fronts that surround them, the better. That's the perspective we need.
For instance: I'm not a feminist, but I appreciate wholeheartedly the efforts that feminists make to undermine religious conservatives to relieve women of these insane rules.

Religion is not an object with only one side. It can be attacked from many sides, and New Atheism attacks one side that is wide open.


bbk said...

Thank you for that post.

I've been trying to get this through to people for several years now. I couldn't agree more with Kelly O'Connor's article as well. I really never understood how atheism is supposed to be the exception to every single other civil rights movement and social change that has successfully been carried out over the past couple centuries. I don't know how otherwise intelligent people support this view that by keeping quiet about an idea, that idea will spread.

Unknown said...

I agree as well. Just curious: Kelly, why aren't you a feminist if you appreciate their struggle against patriarchy?

Related: hey there, bbk; I saw you on another blog--Athiest Revolution, I think. You were one of the enlightened souls who said the RRS debater--"the Redhead" was "hot"! What a disapointment!

Kelly--I often ask about atheists' (not a monolithic group) views on the oppression of women, capitalism,etc.; because they've come off as androcetric Libertarian types so far.

Unknown said...

PS, I'm an Athiest.

bbk said...

Emily, I don't think one has to be a feminist to appreciate the struggle of women against oppression. I don't think one has to buy into the whole idea of patriarchy and androcentrism, even if many of the women fighting oppression have bought into that view.

I could ask the same question in another context: Why are there feminists who aren't atheist? Especially the ones who are Christian and believe that God is most surely a woman? I believe I do more for egalitarianism by being an atheist than someone who is a Christian feminist - an illogical world view can only lead to illogical outcomes, IMO.

bbk said...

To be a little more charitable (to fully respond)... I just steer far and wide from Utopian and Dystopian world views, everything from Marxism to Flower Power. I think many other atheists do as well. I don't think that makes us all Libertarians, especially since that's really yet another Utopian ideology.

I tend to dismiss Feminism and Humanism as well, but I'm only speaking for myself here. Not because they have ends that I disagree with, but because they are antiquated. I don't really buy into a world view from 1911 (androcentrism) any more than one from 100 C.E. (gospels). There is too much crypto-Christianity in them for me because the core philosophies originated within the framework of religion with no intention of questioning that foundation. They may have questioned religion, but they did not question the very sense of right and wrong as dictated by religion.

I think it's sad that feminism is so involved with the sex police and I think this has it's roots in Christianity. And that speaks to your repeated comments that you find it offensive that I made a supposedly sexist comment. One of the responders even claimed that she does not make such comments even in private settings with only women present. IE, she never in her life, under any circumstances, says "That guy is hot!" I'm sorry but this is an unacceptable request. It smacks of control and hypocrisy in that very Christian sense.

It would be one thing if the offended responders pointed out how that particular forum was inappropriate for irrelevant asides, or how the aside itself was offensive in any way beyond the fact that it was irrelevant. But that wasn't quite it - what the responders offered up was to claim superiority over us men by being more sexless. Isn't that what Christians do?

Unknown said...

Emily, notice that I only quoted Kelly in the beginning and I wrote my own opinions below. She may very well be a feminist.

But I can still say a few things about your sentiment.
As a man, the term feminism is alienating. I had a sociology teacher who said he was a feminist, and I know that occasionally there are men who do. But I'm not one of them.
Further, many feminists tend to wander off into female chauvinist territory. I'm supportive of equal rights in a libertarian sense, that women should have the same rights and possibilities that men have, and I'm not in favour of traditional gender roles as an ideal. Women and men should be allowed to do what they like. But feminists tend not to settle with that.

I wrote that I support feminsts when they "undermine religious conservatives". This is one area where I naturally concur with feminists. But the more general "struggle against patriarchy" tend to be too sweeping for my liking.
Western feminists also have a credibility problem, that they are very much concerned with glass ceilings in big corporations but, as they by nature are leftists, tend to downplay the very real discrimination facing Muslim women.
Not to mention their puritanical preoccuppation with porn. They're giving a hand to the fundies there.

(Agreed with BKK on this issue too)

On a sidenote, I'm partial to redheads.

Unknown said...

Strappado, I apologize for misunderstanding the authorship. The 'sweeping' fight against patriarchy is a struggle (which exists in Muslim countries and is fought by Muslim women) which is rooted in radical feminism and 'multicultural feminism' (a term I disagree with), and is focused largly on the very real existence of violence against women, for which their de-humanization is necessary. This is the part where many men and women will say well, sure, i'm all for that!

But to deal with the massive problem (and this does not only refer to the U.S., where a woman is raped every twelve seconds and where spouses and husbands are the number one murderers of women but globally, like in Nicaragua (where 78% of women are raped and there is virtually no legal recourse) you must deal with the cultural issue of the dehuminization of women. This happens in a myriad of ways, to different degrees; I particularly become irritated when a culture of supposedly imminently logical people who supposedly support the erasure of religion for the better of human society, but they can't get past commenting on a woman intellectual's 'hotness' before her arguements or skill, without mentioning her name. This, I hope you understand, is old hat to women who participate in the academy, debate, (or anything for that matter) and is hugely disappointing--and I found bbk's defense of his comment on that thread that 'hot athiest women need to get out there and disprove the misconception that atheist women are ugly hags' (something to that effect) sexist and immature, bottom line. Of course I'm not the sex police for saying so.

In a global sense, think of the percentage of women who are owned by their spouse? Religion plays a huge role here: in promoting one class of people's ownership or domination of another. When these are 'men' over 'women' it is called patriarchy. Why would you not support a 'sweeping' fight? I support a 'sweeping' fight of racism; of course I don't think that, for example, black nationalism as THE answer, but it does a hell of a lot more good (particularly in the sixties) than white Democrats getting their hooks into the black community.

I also don't understand how you can be a feminst, or want to end racism, poverty, ignorance, etc., without feeling the need to abolish irrationality. I do ask feminists why they are not atheists, if they are not (because many are--anarchists, Marxists, communists, regular ol' feminists, whatever). I think it is ridiculous to criticize the glass ceiling, because the arguement is a flimsy liberal feminist support of equal access to a capitalism, which is impossible by definition!

Feminism, liberation theories and Marxism' are not Utopian; this is an ignorant view of these ideas, which are based on sciences. Also, Feminism is not based on antiquated ideas (androcentrism) in a 1911 fashion--we're not suffragists arguing that we are morally superior by God's will as Keepers of the Home, or some such nonsense. Have you heard of the second (or even Third) wave/!?

bbk, we live in a patriarchy. This can be concluded from studying social sciences and Christians support this socio-economic arrangement. How is there not (?!) androcentrism in a patriarchy?

Unknown said...

I agree strongly that Western liberal feminists have a credibility problem. They expose the conditions of the global woman, while supporting capitalism--or they ignore them completely.

bbk said...

Emily I don't think Feminism is Utopian, I think it is Dystopian. It views the world in such a way as to make differences between men and women irreconcilable.

I tend to view Western societal history as such - in a nutshell: A small and primitive culture condoned everything from slavery, killing one's own children, and the oppression of women. They created a religion to support their view. Later societies abandoned many of the archaic practices of their ancestors, but because religion is religion, they passed it down pretty much verbatim through the generations.

BOTH men and women believed this religion equally, to the detriment of all. Every time anyone would want to make progress of any sort - whether scientific of social, they would come up against ancient religious views held up by BOTH men and women. Men who seek to expose truth are hated and discriminated against by conservative religious women just the same as women are by conservative religious men. The majority of secular progress in the last 2,000 years fits into this very pattern.

That, in a nutshell, is an alternative and IMO much more plausible view than androcentrism and feminism in general. I do not understand why feminism so easily dismisses the opposition it gets from conservative women by labeling them as victims. This is completely arbitrary and in the last couple decades, downright contrary to the facts of modern society. I also don't understand how feminists downplay something like male circumcision and domestic violence against men because, once again, the androcentric view tells us that only men themselves can be blamed for the state of the world, so who cares? This is a very dismissive, alienating, and downright Dystopian view of men.

As far as 3rd and whatever waves of feminism, that's all nice and fine. Feminism is not a science. It is a consensus view formed by unscientific means. The closest thing I can relate it to is how the APA considered homosexuality to be a mental illness for so many decades. It took actual scientific research to shoot holes in the consensus view before the APA finally, reluctantly labeled homosexuality as normal. So that's why the easiest way to classify feminism is as a progression of waves rather than a progression of theories.

The problem for me here is, even as a complete laymen, I am still able to shoot holes in every feminist study I ever come across. Too many of the studies set out from the very beginning by assuming the hypothesis. Period. It makes it too easy to find flaws later on. So I'm not convinced that I should consider the latest and most polished version of feminism any more than I should consider the past.

The best analogy I can give, once again, is something like Chiropractics - here is a completely unscientific field, one that is founded on the rejection of germ theory (and therefore biology, evolution, everything goes out the window!) but yet in its misguided studies some Chiropractic methods have been developed to be beneficial. And likewise, as contradictory as religion is, its stronghold over society has convinced many people that it offers benefits to our communities. Just because feminism is taught in colleges doesn't mean much - theological studies are also offered in colleges! You can go to college for more than just a scientific education. That's too bad, when these things claim to be the truth.

bbk said...

What I meant to say is, many feminist studies assume that the hypothesis which fits feminist theory is true and then seek to prove it, rather than to assume that the hypothesis is one of many possible hypotheses and proceed to test each one without bias.

This makes it absolutely easy to shoot holes in feminist research simply by proposing an alternative hypothesis for which they did not test.