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An Emerging Trend?

Published December 30th, 2010 by Bobby Henderson

I have noticed in the last few months an increase in upset emails from self identified atheists/nonbelievers and I’ve been thinking about what this means for the Church of FSM.  Seems like I’ve annoyed some people.  Maybe I can clear things up, and/or possibly further anger people.   

First of course, I am talking for myself, not the church as a whole – let me make that clear.

I have a lot of respect for atheists and freethinkers and related organizations, and for rational causes in general.  But there are times when I see atheist individuals and groups as combative and petty, leaving outsiders with a negative perception, hurting worthy causes in the process.  I said the atheist movement needed a PR team some time ago.  And then in an interview in WordyMofo I said atheists sometimes come off as "a bunch of assholes" to outsiders.  Last week I said they’re not making any friends with the Nativity showdown.

I’ve said a lot of things but mainly I am talking about the *way* things are done; that is, the context of things; not ideas or goals or substantive parts of any of these organizations.  I’m in favor of atheist/freethinker/rational causes.  I just think when those guys get together they very occasionally act like dicks, leaving outsiders with the perception that nonreligious people are bitter and angry.  And that is shame, because I don’t think it’s true.

What I worry most about, though, are the emails from young people who see in the Church of FSM an opportunity to bash religion in general and more specifically to bash people for being religious.  Tolerance is more of a nuanced view and I believe they will come to it eventually if they stick around but it’s really very concerning that so many kids think this way when they first come to a place of free thinking.

I am not a huge fan of organized religion, and it’s impossible to ignore the abuses and corruption that have grown onto so many religions over the years, but at the same time, it’s impossible to deny that so many people get something meaningful out of their beliefs and that they have every right to continue to believe whatever they like *even if it’s irrational*, as long as it does no one else any harm.  Just as we have the right to believe in the FSM. Just as nonbelievers have the right to be free from it.  And we are all richer and more complete people for interacting with people who challenge and disagree with us. 

The question is, can you confront the abuses and injustices that come along with religion in a way that doesn’t betray that tolerance for the beliefs of others?  I don’t know, but shouldn’t that be the ideal? 

What do you think?

*Update*

Wow, good responses. I will note that what I receive in email varies quite a bit from the comments here.  I like that most people took the message in the spirit it was intended. 

I think there is an idea that I’m defending religion, but it’s not really that … it was meant more as a defense of people and their *personal* religious beliefs.  FSM knows there are awful religious people, of course there are – there are awful people anywhere you look, but there are also good people anywhere you look and that includes inside of religion.

There are several occurrences where a curious Christian ventured here and engaged us for a while only to be stomped on en masse for their thoughts.  I hate that.  There is this idea, I think, that being correct is enough, that if we rip apart all their arguments thoroughly enough they will see the error of their ways and then … I don’t know, renounce their foolish beliefs and join up?   Except I don’t think it works that way.  There is that quote … "You can’t reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into."  I think there is a bigger picture and if we truly want to help someone along a path of Reason, it starts with an uncommon level of respect. 

Thank you, everyone, for your responses. Keep them coming.  I feel like we’re onto something.

*update 2*

I just found this and thought it deserved some attention:

"Do we want Christians to join us? Since when is this not about keeping religion out of science?"

That’s a valid point.  I think its worth talking about larger goals of the Church of the FSM but for now I think it’s safe to say there is a wish amongst non-religious that the religious acted more rational – particularly in areas where their actions intersect with the rest of the world. 

I’ve seen plenty of disagreements between religious and non-religious played out publicly and I’ve yet to see a person of faith swayed by articulate impassioned reasoning. 

And I doubt very much that people of strong faith are concerned whether their beliefs are strictly True or not.   Whether that’s a conscious realization or not I don’t know, but we have all known people with entrenched beliefs that are too irrational to believe (earth is 5000 years old, anyone?) except they do believe these things – they believe these things with a force to be reckoned with.

Well what is at the root of that force?  Clearly it has little to do with objective reasoning.  I suggest it’s due mainly to the attachment to the very real, very meaningful community that churches provide for so many people.   Cognitive dissonance — they can’t be reasoned with because betraying those beliefs puts in danger their relationship to the community they value so highly, therefore the thing is True.   That’s the force, the block that can’t be argued against.

Atheists, nonbelievers, freethinkers — we can say we build communities as well, and there are some examples but we’re not great at it.   Say what you will about Christians, they kick our asses at building communities.  There is something about Drinking The Kool-Aid that lets people do with genuine (sometimes very creepy) intention what seems very hard to do for a group with broader more objective views.  I’m not just talking about religion.  Squabbling academic groups, anyone? There is something about getting together in groups that is very hard to do positively.  How do you do it without being cynical?  We need to figure it out.

Will Christians walk from one community to another? Surely some will.  I have heard the same story from countless ex-Christians who have become Atheists and it’s always a lonely road, because it’s never just a matter of questioning ones beliefs, is it? It’s also a matter of losing that support system and community that came along with those beliefs.  

And maybe just having that option, knowing that questioning beliefs doesn’t have to mean such a loss, will make it easier. 



168 Responses to “An Emerging Trend?”

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  1. Hieronymus Fortesque Lickspittle says:

    I appreciate all approaches, from intolerant dicks to wimpy accommodationists with the tolerant in between. I’m a little saddened by the “don’t be a dick” approach because there is a time and place for all approaches. I love a smart-ass rant just as much as I admire patient tolerance.

    • UUniversal Love says:

      I enjoy smart-ass rants as much as anyone, but if that is the heart of our cause I do not see it being a lasting one or an admirable one. A variety of expression is important in order to convince others and to just blow off some fuckin steam, but I think we have to decide what our message is. Is our that religious fundamentalism and irrationality are dangerous and we should rationally oppose them, or is our message a personal vendetta against all religious expression?

  2. Noodlity says:

    For one, Pastafarianism is only against religion posing as science, not religion in general.

    Apart from that, why don’t we make a comparison between religious abuse of rights and liberties, and respective atheist actions. Religious organizations propagate medical and scientific inaccuracies, support and engage in sexism and homophobia, abuse political power for personal gain, and as of this writing, provide asylum for pedophiles.

    Atheists, on the other hand, are… mildly annoying, and unappreciative of religious displays. Oh, yeah, we’re SO intolerant.

    The place of religion is in the mind, in the home, and in the temple. Not in parliaments, schools, or courthouses. Simple as that.

    RAmen

    • Zuri says:

      I see a lot of good thinking and intelligence here.
      Thumbs up!

    • tony allen says:

      Your last sentence is what FFRF is all about. Well said

    • Uncommoner says:

      Respectable Input!

  3. B. says:

    There is no getting away from the fact that any questioning, however small, of the Christian dogma in the western world is enough for some people to justify an all but decent behavior against those that question it. Atheists should be tolerant, but rude behavior comes from both sides.

    I think the goal should be a civil discourse but not go so far as to sacrifice the primary objective, which is to keep religion from stepping into the realm of science. Which can’t always be done by talking nicely, although there is a big difference between screaming cursewords and screaming to be heard.

  4. StJason says:

    To be fair, a lot of it flows both ways. This does not excuse Atheists, but we live in a world where Jesus Fish are on the back of every other car, the president cannot finish a speech without mentioning God, it’s on all our currency… and it is often assumed to be the same as morality (thus, all Atheists (and of course, all those dirty heathens of any other sect/religion), famous people who do terrible things ‘find religion’ and get a free pass, and if we dare to whisper that we might differ in opinion upon one of their sacred tenants, to borrow a term, there is hell to pay.
    With all this carp stacking up on people every day, I can see why they get some of the fervor to strike back. I’ve also found that the ‘polite asking’ often doesn’t get anything done “he’s not serious, he was asking so quietly…” but if you ask a little more forcefully, suddenly you are ‘attacking our traditions’ and ‘being angry’.

    And, I’d also like to point out that there isn’t a problem of secularism creeping into the churches and other places of worship. The opposite problem (Kansas, Florida, Texas, and on and on…) is not true.

    The real question is can any protest movement exist without causing hurt feelings? The Civil Rights movement of the sixties wouldn’t have gotten far if all they did was politely ask to be treated the same. So they took to the streets, they challenged the Jim Crow laws, they protested, they had sit-ins and prayer fests and forced people to look at how things were. Same thing with the Suffrage movement of nearly a century ago. Politely asking to be let to vote likely wouldn’t have had the same effect as the huge protests, refusals to bow to tradition, and yes, standing out in the street asking to be taken seriously, it simply would have been ignored.

    So with our movement. It perhaps isn’t as big and glorious as my other two examples, but like many of the groups in those moments, we have chosen our specific topic (religion out of the science class) and our chosen tactic (hold the ridiculousness up to a mirror). Now, I don’t expect for millions to take to the streets to defend our rights to not have God shoved down our throats. But keeping religion in religion, and the secular in the secular is important, and seemingly harder and harder to do. So yes, there will be some hard feelings and heating up of debate.

    • sir. pasta says:

      i might also like to add that the protestant movement also ended up with a lot of hurt feelings (heritic burnings, angry popes) and yet today protestantism is the most wide spread christian sect. it would seem that for any movement to be sucsessful it must include someone bieing unhappy. :P

    • tony allen says:

      FFRF goes to bat for us everday with a tallented bunch of lawyers to try to hold the religious at bay. I’m a member and I consider it money well spent.

  5. Danimal says:

    My Dear Pastafarians,
    To answer Bobby’s question I would say no. I don’t believe it is wise to tolerate faith or the belief that the stories in the worlds holy texts are anymore than allegory. It is this believing without questioning, without thinking, it is a fettering of the mind. It is this kernel from which the injustice and abuse we so despise grows. However, we *can* challenge this unthinking in a way that is civil, and *that* is the ideal. I emphasize can because pastafarians and atheists in general aren’t always civil. I myself try to let the quality of the argument presented to me compared with my perception of the individuals capacity for an argument dictate the civility of my response.
    Danimal

    • UUniversal Love says:

      I appreciate you emphasizing the difference between tolerance and civility, and I feel I should emphasize the difference between expression and substance.

      I don’t equate faith to believing without questioning. I know too many believers who I respect and… put my faith in to think that they worship blindly. I think of religion as a word, and spirituality is the definition of that word. Everyone is trying to express a nuance of the same thing, but they’re all using a different word. Some have lived for so long using someone else’s word that they don’t understand its meaning; they have religion but no spirit. The more people understand what their own word means, the more they will understand its synonyms. We should be tolerant of expression.

      We should not be tolerant of substance; not the dangerous, bigoted kind you’re referring to. However, we should be patient with it. People do not change their beliefs overnight.

      • Zuri says:

        You said it, Danimal!

    • plumberbob says:

      Thank-you, Danimal; that just about says it for me.

      RAman

    • Drained and Washed Clean says:

      As usual, Danimal hit the nail on the head. :)

      • Danimal says:

        @UL,
        I always enjoy discussing points with you on this site and I think we’ve been down this road before. The Noodly One has obviously blessed you with more patience than me allowing you to take the “Live and Let Live” approach and I agree that it works for you but it is because you are a rational person. I’m concerned with the people lacking in reason.

        @plumberbob and D&WC,
        Thanks guys. One claim the religious make is that without their religion there would be no sense of community or coming together of humanity to provide support for each other. The CotFSM invalidates that claim. Here we have a group doing just that with no invisible man in the sky needed. On the days when I’m afraid I’m the only sane person left in the world I can come here and breathe a sigh of relief.

        Peace and Noodles,
        Danimal

        • UUniversal Love says:

          +Updates

          It’s hard to accept ideas that are spoken from a cultural context we ran away from. It took me a good while to accept ideas of “God” precisely because they were framed as ideas about God. I still have acknowledged prejudices against theistic communities, Christianity especially, but the more I try to understand the language Christians frame concepts in the better I can make a rational point. I won’t tell anyone that God doesn’t exist, but I know exactly what God *cannot* be.

          I have seen people of faith swayed by articulate, impassioned reasoning. I have seen atheists who would not be swayed by articulate, impassioned reasoning. I think the solution is in trying to understand and respect the language of the other side. To me, that’s the definition of civility.

          I know Christians and other theists who truly admire this community. I believe some even consider themselves a part of it, but one hostile comment can make them feel alienated.

          As a final thought, can we confront our own abusive and unjust beliefs (when we recognize them) without losing respect for ourselves? I know I can because I have I try to continue to do so.

    • tony allen says:

      Again I say, let FFRF do the fighting. All we have to do is drink the cold beer, go to strip clubs and watch the fir fly. When we become the majority religion, then maybe FFRF will have a problem with us.

  6. Andrew Hall says:

    I’m a comedy writer/comediian and I can act dickishly for the sake of laughs. When I write my own blog… well, it’s my blog and I set the rules, and most of the time people laugh.

    However, when the stray Christian happens across the blog and asks a question I treat it as an opportunity to honestly communicate with them. The worst thing I can do is be a jerk. In fact, I just did a post about atheist bullies because the problem is so rampant.

    There is an art to disagreeing without being disagreeable.

    • tony allen says:

      If someone wants to put a 10 story cross with a 2000 year old dead jew look alike hanging on it on private property, I have no problem with that. It’s when they put it on public property that my tax dollars support that I call FFRF.

  7. ralphie says:

    I think that many of the people who speak out against anything tend to become viewed as intolerant by others who are of the opposite viewpoint. (note the responses that Christians receive when they post anything on this site…) Regardless of this, I admire your goal of eliminating this view of intolerance. I don’t believe that constantly verbally assaulting anyone who believes in something that is different is a way to further the conversation toward our point of view. (I must admit I do enjoy the comedy that it can provide however… I tend to have a warped sense of humor…)

    I think that the way to achieve what you are asking is to listen (yes genuinely listen, even if they are talking about believing in flying saucers, zombies or whatever…) and then formulate an intelligent, yet non-confrontational, argument which undermines the tenets which are lacking in factual/scientific evidence.

    ralphie

    • tony allen says:

      Say what you will. you”ll never shake my faith in the FSM

  8. Silenus says:

    The Church of the FSM is not the first great disorganization to hold the fun house mirror to organized religion. For example, the venerable Universal Life Church, founded in the early 1960′s by Rev. Kirby J. Hensley, was both a joke and a very serious comment on the place of religion in our lives. I was ordained in 1968, as minister number 10, 256. A year later there were over 1.5 million Universal Life Ministers. At one point Rev. Hensley ordained the whold student body of San Francisco State University, 2 dogs and a rock. Our only real problem was we were all ministers and almost no congregation.

    http://www.ulc.org/

    The interesting thing is, that while one purpose of the ULC was to show that anyone can express religion anyway they want, a number of my friends seriously wanted me to do things for them, like preside at their weddings. They wanted some sort of ritual and celebration without the usual organized religions, and even though I told them they could have any friend ordained in the ULC, they wanted someone who already had been ordained and was sort of at arms length from their other friends. I’ve done a dozen or so marriages and helped a friend or two through divorce.

    I suppose the Church of the FSM could have ministers who perform marriages, etc. Why not?

    Si

    • Slippy says:

      I am so glad you shared the information about ULC!

      I am now an ordained minister, and would be glad to officiate any marriage for any FSMers.

    • tony allen says:

      I’m also a ULC minister *56449. I’ve only done 2 weddings, no divorces. I attended one of Kirby’s talks at San Jose State. I was told that he couldn’t read or write but had a photographic memory.

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