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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?”

  1. TiltedHorizon says:

    I think as Atheists, we already have an uphill battle without derailing the point with nonconstructive comments. I recently argued that as an Atheist, I am a better at being Christian than most Christians. I stated this because my comments here are typically respectful, attempting to raise points rather than blood pressure. There are times when a self proclaimed Christian sets an aggressive tone out of the gate at which point it may become necessary, IMHO, to scorch the earth to leave a mark. However, I have seen some respectful comments left by the god fearing which were met with unwarranted hostility. These are the types that do us a disservice. Let’s be better than the ‘Christians’ shall we.

    @Andrew

    I am so stealing this line: There is an art to disagreeing without being disagreeable.
    Could not agree more.

  2. tekHedd says:

    It is easy to be tolerant of things that you never see. We are in a period where atheists are coming out of the closet, and *everything* we do is offensive. I for one am sick of tacitly pretending to be Christian in order to avoid making a fuss. You can go on ahead if you want.

  3. theFewtheProudtheMarinara says:

    I’m a born smart-ass who’s been in martial arts for decades, so I like a good fight! If I post something, I’m almost hurt if it doesn’t get some “dislikes” – where did I go wrong?

    Religious people who aren’t hypocrites and don’t go parading their faith around are OK. But I’ve just had it up to here with those sanctimonious a-holes who look down their nose at anyone who doesn’t accept their fairy tales.

    • Atsap Revol says:

      I’m with theFewtheProudtheMarinara. I’m 78 years old and I’ve had my nose rubbed in it by pious assholes since I was a kid. I have tried to be tolerant, but I am damn sick of being treated like a second class citizen because I can’t accept the fairy tales of the religious nuts.

      Yes, the same mentality that put God in the Pledge of Allegiance and on every coin and bill is the mentality that would like to insert Intelligent Design or Creationism in science classes in public schools. Lately I’m hearing more-and-more that the religious right should be able to put what they want in our schools because they are a majority. That includes ID, Creationism, prayer, and the Ten Commandments on every wall.

      I will tolerate the religious as long as they keep it out of my face. As long as they keep their fantasies in their church, their home, and their parochial schools, we can get along. But I will flame anyone who gives me the old hellfire for you unrepentent sinners approach or tells me they will pray for me.

      AR

      • theFewtheProudtheMarinara says:

        Rant on, ATSAP! Who else wants to join the Cranky Old Guy Brigade? It could be the Pastafariam version of the Knights of Columbus, or the Promise Keepers. Drained and Washed Clean can form the Women’s version (I hesitate to call it auxillary, since that connotates subservience).l

        • Drained and Washed Clean says:

          Love it! Totally in :)

        • Drained and Washed Clean says:

          I’m looking for suggestions. Wenches perhaps? Ornery Wenches? Perhaps some alliteration with Wiley Wenches? :)

          Or should we go in a different direction with the adjectives? Spicy (or does that make it sound like a food)?

          Thoughts? :)
          I’m not very good at naming things…

      • plumberbob says:

        I agree entirely with Atsap Revol. He’s ten years ahead of me, but I too have seen the superstitious fear that has been plastered all over this country. We need another Sputnick incident under another wise leader to spur the nation to again excel in science.

        Religidiots: take your goat-herder generated book of fairy tales, that you can’t even read, back to your tents and churches, and keep it there.

        RAmen

        • Atsap Revol says:

          Looks like there are several potential members of the “Cranky Old Farts Club.” A good rant relieves tension and is good for the heart. If we can get Danimal to change his views slightly, we’ll have a quorum.

          Atsap Revol, Cranky Old Fart

        • Keith says:

          I’ll be in on that. I’m only 55 but my other half has promised that when I turn 60 he’ll buy me a cloth cap and gabardine overcoat. He says that if I’m going to act like Victor Meldrew I may as well look like him.

        • plumberbob says:

          Atsap,

          Is that The Geezers Garrison that’s being organized? If so, I’m in.

          RAmen

        • Danimal says:

          I’m afraid at only a quarter century I might be too young to join the old farts club.

        • Atsap Revol says:

          No, Danimal, you’re never too young to be an “Old Fart.” It’s attitude, not age, that counts.

          Atsap Revol, Charter Member of the OFC

      • plumberbob OFC says:

        @ Atsap,

        Can we use OFC on our handles?

        RAmen

        • Atsap Revol says:

          Sure, PlumberBob, you can append the OFC title to your online name. If you wish to be formal, you can designate yourself as a COFC (Cranky Old Farts Club) member.

          RAmen

        • Wench Melody (UK) says:

          May we have a Brit branch of this order please, gentlemen? And I trust my gender will not count against me – I’m in the right age bracket, so what do you say?

          Some people I thought were my friends told me some years ago that they ‘had seen the light’, and then told me that because I questioned their dogma fairly closely ( I graduated in Philosophy of Language and of Mathematics many, many years ago …), I was an ‘agent of Satan’ – does that epithet qualify me for the order? (I must admit I thought they were joking, and said that if I was, the commission wasn’t much good – they’ve never spoken to me since …)

          Pasta be upon you all!

          M xx

      • tony allen says:

        there is a 50 question bible quiz on the FFRF web site that sheds lite on some nasty stuff in there.

        • plumberbob says:

          @ Wench Melody,

          Welcome aboard! I’ll just append here a brief outline of our mission and purpose:

          1) Our mission is the exclusion of religious mythology from the science curricula of public schools.
          2) Our theology is a satire that neither depends on, nor is derivative of any other religion.
          3) We insist that any school board that includes any religious mythology in their science curricula, must also include ours.

          here is not one shred of proof for the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster; there is equally no evidence for the existence of any other deity. The evidence which we are seeking conforms to the rules of evidence used in the scientific method as to demonstrability, repeatability, testability, and others. All deities, to be proven to exist must conform to the same rules of provability.

          After that we have a good time. Again, welcome aboard.

          RAmen

        • Wench Melody (UK) says:

          Thank you, Plumberbob – I feel very welcome – and I heartily endorse the Church’s mission statement and purpose! Our children are our most precious asset, and their minds must not be filled with nonsense masquerading as truth!

          Here in the UK we are, perhaps, not quite so beset by overtly odd (i.e.religious) beliefs as you are over there, but nevertheless, there is ample room for us to improve. and I sometimes fear our society is splitting into the religious and secular factions – not a comfortable notion at all.

          It may be that one of the reasons we deal with things differently over here is that our ‘revolution’ was so much longer ago – I’m not sure – maybe the knowledge that one of our more successful monarchs threw over the whole Catholic Church because the Pope wouldn’t grant a divorce does something to a nation’s psyche?

          Anyway, thank you again, Plumberbob and all fellow Pastafarians! Pesto be upon you!

          M xx

  4. mike says:

    I went thru a period of pretty good chickenshittery after I took up Buddhism and realized how bad I’d been fooled. It’s a natural reaction. My practice has mellowed me out since then and I basically believe everybody ought to believe whatever they want as long as it don’t hurt anyone or is pushed off onto the rest of us. What do I know about religious convictions? I found out I never really had any.

  5. Mr. A says:

    I think part of the problem is that many of us tend to contrast “atheists” with “religious people,” which is a false dichotomy: the opposite of not believing in god is believing in god. Belonging to some form of organized religion is a completely different activity, and one which deserves many of the charges leveled against it by atheists here and elsewhere. But the simple belief in god is no more or less harmful than believing in Santa Claus. It’s irrational and unfounded, in my opinion, but not in and of itself a negative thing. We (atheists and/or pastafarians) have enough automatic negative PR without then ridiculing people for essentially neutral beliefs.

    • StJason says:

      The difference, Mr. A, is that you don’t see organized groups of SantaClausians trying to change science classes to teach that the world was delivered on Christmas Eve by Santa. You don’t see groups of ToothFarians trying to erect basalt monoliths to the proper utilization of lost teeth in public court houses (and payed for by taxpayers).

      The usual example given for what is Constitutional (and yes, I realize there are non-Americans here too) is that your right to throw punches ends at my nose. Despite what they think, Christians right to erect Jesus paraphernalia ends at my property and the properties that we own in common. Which is why Nativity scenes do not belong on courthouse lawns any more then if I came and erected a shrine to the Flying Spaghetti Monster on your lawn.

      • sir. pasta says:

        but you must see that what you refer to is christian people, aka organized religion, and she was making a point to tolarate netral people, a simple belif in god, not an orginized religion that was doing the things you rant about. i don’t like those acts either but that was not her point.

        • StJason says:

          I was more taking issue with ‘belief in God being no more harmful then belief in Santa Claus’.

          Atheist, by definition, is someone who doesn’t believe in god. So while someone may not be a frothing-mouthed bible-smasher decrying all but themselves a sinner and doomed to eternal torment, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t in philosophical opposition. If Jesus came back this very day, it wouldn’t be the ‘I believe in God but don’t go to church or read the bible or talk philosophy’ believers who would question, analyze, and wonder if this is the real thing or if it’s a scam.

    • Atsap Revol says:

      I vote for scam.

      • Mr. A says:

        @Atsap: me too.

        @sir.pasta: I think you get exactly what I was saying, and my sudden gender change has also made me see things much differently…

        @StJason: Aren’t we making the same point? You refer to “organized groups of SantaClausians,” which is the kind of thing I was talking about: it’s the organization into groups that makes people start doing wacko things, not the belief itself. I don’t think a single individual wakes up, decides to believe in god, then goes out and blows things up. It’s when that individual joins, or is born into, an organized religion, that bad things start happening.

        An individual belief in god doesn’t *necessarily* lead to negative actions, but organized religions nearly always do. And it’s my hope that the same won’t turn out to be true of non-believers–that we can limit our attacks to the negative actions undertaken by people or groups on behalf of irrational beliefs, not to the beliefs themselves.

  6. PlagueChicken says:

    Well, as has been stated in some form before, the tone with which the discussion is presented will do a lot to predict the tone under which it may continue. Humorously enough, it is a variant on turning the other cheek. For some it is said only to get you to turn your head so they can whack you on the other side.

    If someone comes and asks in all seriousness “wtf? Flying Spaghetti?” and wants to know why this site exists, we can shake our collective heads at the inability to find the “About” tab. But, we should help to explain why this idea is necessary in the face of pseudo-science in the classroom.

    However, if the question “wtf? Flying Spaghetti?” is accompanied by derision, or threats of hellfire and the like, then one good verbal broadside deserves another. Pastafarians might engender ill-will by disrupting a wedding, but I don’t think anyone would could or should give us stick for shouting down the Westboro nitwits. Context is important.

    PC

  7. Darwinfish says:

    We have a hell of a problem getting rid of something as powerful as religion. You can’t bully religion out of someone. Religion is something that gets a stronger hold the more aggressively you challenge it. The way to win a battle for hearts and minds isn’t to piss off the people you want to engage with, but rather to show them that you aren’t, in fact, an asshole, depriving them of that easy way to write you off, and leaving them with questions that their fairy tales can’t properly answer.

    I think religion is a cop out at best, a force for evil at the worst, a waste of the human mind, and a debilitating disease upon humanity. But as much as I’d love to charge in, metaphorical guns blazing, I know it’d do more harm than good. There are better ways to go about it. FSM and other satire is one way of doing it.

    Many people get pissed off when told to tone it down. Well, that may work for them, but it’s not good for anything. If you aren’t pissing a few people off, you’re probably selling Shamwows.

    Carry on, Mr. Henderson.

  8. David Millar says:

    “Moderation in all things – including moderation” Petronius. Which I think means – don’t be a dick all the time, but occasional dickishness is okay.

    Bobby, I think you are on a pretty even keel.

    May the blessings of the Noodly-one be upon you.

    David

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