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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. Insightful Ape says:

    Despite all my respect for Bobby and the good work he has done, I have to say on this particular point, I disagree.
    Believer have every right to believe whatever they want. We also have the right to point out to them that they are wrong. It is as simple as that. That “they get something meaningful out of it” does not mean that it should be immune from criticism.
    Further, I don’t think we are the ones in need of toning down our discourse. There are plenty of insecure people out there who feel threatened by our very existence. I do not think it is a good idea for us to stay in the closet as a unilateral concession. Where would the gay people be if they never held a parade?
    As for the nativity scene-if they agreed to put an FSMas sign next to it that would be fine, but barring that, I have to side with the FFRF.

  2. Bastian Fromherz says:

    People definitely deserve respect and so do their rights. It’s what makes a free world. Dissent and disagreement. As far as I can remember, nearly no atheists/freethinkers/humanists/secularists/nonbelievers/etc., I’ve ever read or met, think that religion should be banned.
    Strange thing is that one of the first things I hear when discussing religion and belief with people who disagree with me is that “people have the right to believe anything”. I always get angry with that argument, because it is absolutely irrelevant and a definite given. The right to believe is different from whether the belief is true or not. I don’t think beliefs deserve instant, universal respect. Ideas are meant to be tossed around, messed with, poked at and torn apart, because that’s what an open forum does. Over time the best arguments stick and survive, because they are the best arguments. If I say I don’t like religion and that it is false, the ‘intolerance’ attack is bullshit. Disagreement is not intolerance or some form of hate. It’s just disagreement. Unfortunately people can get defensive about their religious beliefs and many think believers should be sheltered from arguments against their belief. Unfortunately the same principle, when applied to any form of knowledge concerning politics, history, science, philosophy, etc. falls apart. If you want to convince people, and hopefully yourself, that something happened or is true you need verifiable evidence, otherwise people will attack your lack of evidence and reasoning. People need to be able to let go of ideas and beliefs if they find out they are wrong. Whether it’s political views, spiritual “connections” or whatever. People need to realize religion and other supernatural claims are just as worthy of attacks as anything else.

  3. Walter Silveira says:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/07/the_dick_delusion.php

    Not to Copy Pasta everyone into oblivion, but this has been dealt with before:

    “I’ve been getting slapped upside the head with this “dick” meme that’s roaring through the skeptic community lately, largely because it seems that any time someone makes a generic criticism of rude, abrasive, confrontational critics of foolishness, the audience all thinks of the life-size poster of PZ Myers they’ve got hanging on their bedroom door back home. It’s a little annoying. Everybody seems to imagine that if Granny says “Bless you!” after I sneeze, I punch her in the nose, and they’re all busy dichotomizing the skeptical community into the nice, helpful, sweet people who don’t rock the boat and the awful, horrible, bastards in hobnailed boots who stomp on small children in Sunday school. It’s just not right.

    Of course, there’s a range of criticism, too. I think Rebecca Watson is hitting the problem about right: it’s about picking your battles, and making a scene over trivial customs practiced with charitable intent is not a good idea. So, really, I don’t have to punch Granny in the nose—I can just say “thank you!”, and that’s fine. But when Granny tells you to get down on your knees and praise Jesus right now or you’re going to burn for eternity in a lake of hellfire, then some dickishness is not only justified, it’s necessary.

    The thing is, the dickishness practiced is not nose-punching, it’s not even howling four-letter words at Granny…it’s a flat statement of “That’s crazy, I’m not going to do that, and here’s why.” That, apparently, is the New Dickishness.

    One recent flashpoint in this argument was Phil Plait’s talk at TAM 8, in which he asked a rhetorical question, “How many of you … became a skeptic, because somebody got in your face, screaming, and called you an idiot, brain-damaged, and a retard?” And the Pharyngula switchboard lit up. Lots of people wrote to me via email or twitter, some gloating, some just unhappy, stating that Phil had just called me out.

    No, he didn’t. He didn’t mention me at all. He opened up against a strawman New Dick, which is unfortunate, because there isn’t anyone who fits that description in the skeptical movement. There are people like that elsewhere: drill sergeants and televangelists come to mind.

    A few people are speaking out against the talk. Stephanie Zvan points out that Randi is one of these ‘dicks’, that his willingness to sneer at charlatans was an important factor in her own acceptance of skepticism. Matt Dillahunty thinks Phil was making a bit of a dick move himself, which actually demonstrates the utility of the making people think with a little harshness. I also fear that one of the reasons for the popularity of Phil’s talk (it did strike a chord with many) is that it reassured many that certain aspects of belief were going to be walled off from skeptical criticism in the name of politeness and tone and courtesy.

    There is a fair point being made, that there are multiple strategies that work to convince people to rethink bad ideas, and they don’t all involve punching people in the face…and many of the best strategies do involve politely listening and criticizing. But I think the best ideas involve a combination of willingness to listen and politely engage, and a forthright core of assertiveness and confrontation — tactical dickishness, if you want to call it that.

    I don’t, actually — it also seems like a dick move to try and associate a strategy with gender, since some of the most wonderfully dickish skeptics I know are female. But that’s a separate issue.”

    The meek will inherit nothing. A movement without the bravery to be assertive will just be run over. Sometimes tact and softspokenness is necessary, but sometimes (and I would even say the majority of times) you’re going to need to ruffle some feathers and clearly and emphatically state your anti-theism.

    Quoting Greta Christina, “Let Firebrands be Firebrands and let Diplomats be Diplomats.”

  4. ATXD says:

    I agree. I think when people first leave religion behind they are often angry. They have often invested a lot of their time and money into something which they now know to be a lie. Others may have been abused or mistreated by people of faith. It’s easy to see why many people are angry with religion but holding on to anger isn’t healthy.

    The great thing about the Flying Spaghetti Monster is that it is all about humor. In the cases where religious memes are like viruses laughter can be the best medicine.

    RAmen!

  5. Darwin's Monkey says:

    the reason atheists are such assholes is because thats how we’re constantly treated. atheists tend to be few and far between and they constantly have to do battle with others, this unfortunately leaves some us bitter lil’ douches. however i hope i speak for the atheist community when i say we can do better than that. we should be able to be above such bitterness. that just turns people into terry jones kinda people. i mean i’m down for some poking fun thats always good, but yeah insulting and being low isn’t kool.

    RAmen!

    • StJason says:

      The reason that Atheists are *perceived* as assholes is because they tell the sighing girl that the jerkwad boyfriend doesn’t love her. They are seen as assholes because they tell parents that letting their kid believe in Santa when they are twelve is not nice. They are known to be assholes because they point out that slugging the geek and throwing him in a locker could be taken as a criminal offense. They point out that you will never be a rock star or football champion. They tell you that playing with fire can get you burnt.

      As a species, we love our delusions. Atheists point out the one that is allowed (encouraged!) for even grown adults to indulge in.

  6. Kjell Magne says:

    This is important stuff guys!
    No need to act the same way as the assholes youre opposing.
    In my neck of the woods (Scandinavia), it’s normal to be an atheist.
    AND people hardly goes to church any longer.
    Only the hard core xians show up every sunday.

    How is it possible?
    The nonbelievers showed the christians respect, and all the followers, who did not believe, but didn’t want to be left out of anything, followed the side that respected people.
    Noone will hang around someone who willpromise you stale beer and VD for eternity!!! :)

    In a discussion, ALWAYS be respectfull, and NEVER loose your temper. That will only chase people away from you

    • theFewtheProudtheMarinara says:

      I have never posted anything here in anger. Neither have I displayed anger when debating Xtians in person, though I have seen anger in them. And it has ALWAYS been them who’ve started the discussion. They’re welcome to their silly beliefs, if it makes them happy. It’s not my job to tell them there’s no Santa.

  7. TheJase says:

    Come at me swinging, and I will swing back.
    Come at me for a debate, and I will debate back.

    By and large the Christians that come on here come on swinging and with hate mail. They get the reaction they wanted (they be trolling, we be hating). The problem is that after a while the association of:

    Christian = spoiling for a fight

    become the norm, and people make the assumption that even a reasonable Christ-worshipper is an angry, fightin’ fool.

    We just need to up our game and descern the difference.

  8. Teresa Boardman says:

    I admit that in most situations where I have encountered adamant ‘believers’, it was simply more polite to suffer in silence. Science has yet to prove the non-existence of god and the existence of parallel universes. Humans like to feel superior in all things and to be able to demonstrate their superiority with pseudoscience or statistics or the guy that is built like a brick shit house. So it should be no surprise that when there are differing opinions, there will be some very dirty tactics and language when push comes to shove. This behavior doesn’t sway the opposition to reason. I find it interesting that a few religious groups actually encourage open discussion. This doesn’t set well with most.

    I see no problem with the display of religious icons. I do have a problem with discouraging children from exercising critical thinking in any area of their education, including religion. Here is where dogma and science reach an impasse. But it costs nothing to be civil.

    • Drained and Washed Clean says:

      The kids are what really bother me. I battle it everyday in my classroom. We are studying art history (I teach elementary), and just did the Dark Ages where art and religion were inseparable. A child didn’t know a bible story, and the students were shocked. I then told them that was fine, not everyone practices the same religion, and there people who don’t even believe in god. Some of those kids looked at me like I had 6 heads. No one has even told them that it was possible to not believe in a god. Ridiculous.

      • Zuri says:

        The fact that most of us kids have been blinded by one side of the argument or another is what bothers me. That’s why I “study” religion. I want to freely think for myself and choose what makes most sense to me. A common thought: “Freethinker=Atheist.” This is not true. A freethinker is merely one who has a freely thinks about religion. I catergorize myself as “Christian” for now, because that’s what my parents are. My grandmother is a devout Christian. She was shocked when I told her I was studying religion and atheism. She was angry at my parents- “Why do you let her ask questions about the truth? You’ve got to get her mind off atheism NOW before she burns in a pit of hellfire!” or something like that. Um, I never said anything about becoming an atheist at all in the first place. I’m just freely thinking. What’s wrong with that?
        Yes, DAWC, I’ve seen that. One time in my class, we were making Hannukah cards, and the star if David went on the front. The teacher explained to us what the symbol meant and told us the story of David and Goliath. One kid asked if that was a true story. The other kids looked at him like he’d sprouted a third eye. Another time, a girl in my class made up her own religion- The Wisdom Squirrel. She spoke to The Wisdom Squirrel and asked for advice. One time she thought he was talking to her. A boy that sits near us was laughing at her. “Are you stupid or something?” (Personally, I think he hates her because she’s his wife in the school play.) Another time, the teacher was reading The Lightning Thief to us (which got us all hooked on Greek mythology. Some kids even started to believe it) and got to the line about George Washington being a child of Athena, and one kid asked “He was?” and we were all like “Duh! No!”
        We’re not allowed to freely think. That’s why I’m here.
        P.S. You hit the nail on the head.

        • Danimal says:

          Zuri,
          What has prompted this sudden turn around in attitude. Before you were bashing us and now it’s all compliments. Not that I’m complaining mind you. I find this much more enjoyable, just wondering so that maybe we can rein in other fundies. I’m glad to hear that you are trying to study religion and I’m glad to see you realize that there is no 1:1 ratio of freethinker to anything. I’m glad you qualify your christianity as “for now” and acknowledge that your faith was decided by something as arbitrary as the environment in which you were raised. Please note the vehemence with which your grandmother reacted to you asking questions and then ask another question. *WHY* did questioning “the truth” cause your grandma to start tossing around the idea of damnation? Also, please consider the ease that young adults and children create religions or latch onto religions presented to them.
          Again, I’m glad you are ready to participate in an adult discussion.
          Danimal

        • plumberbob says:

          @ Zuri,

          Remember that your religious organization is run by old MEN, whose only goal is the collection of MONEY, POWER, and SEX for themselves! You’re terribly frightened that we might be right, and that the fables that have been preached to you by your equally frightened elders might really be just irrational superstitions. Those elders seem to be so troubled by the irrationality of their faith, that they’re threatening to have your questions forcibly terminated.

          Three things kill faith: curiosity, clarity, and consistency. And faith kills all three.

          A wise person wrote, “When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, then you’ll also understand why I dismiss yours.”

          RAmen

        • Hernando says:

          Zuri,

          Study away. But you are wasting your precious time (tic, tock…how many days do we have left?). There is nothing there. There are only belief systems developed to enslave and bleed the masses. They are all the same, those religious dudes. They speak of compassion and love. Then they send their soldiers to kill you.

          May I suggest culinary school? Or landscape engineering? Make something. Hug somebody.

          That being said, when I tire of the great noodle, I just might sign up for the “Wisdom Squirrel” – priceless!

        • tony allen says:

          A man who talks to god is praying. If god answers him back, he’s schizophrenic.

        • Zuri says:

          Danimal, when I was posting before, it was Christmas and my birthday. I think I was running too high on celebrations to think properly, LOL. Yes, I was raised Christian. The “for now” was out of habit. I never questioned faith before, mainly because I was too little to think that deeply. I appreciate that you didn’t say something like “time to grow up little girl” or “it’s all a big book of fairy tales” or act like rejecting faith was a part of growing up and all religious are “oversized children listening to their fairy tale book, although a priest is reading it rather than Mommy at bedtime.” I went to Christian preschool, and I remember one girl thought the Bible stories the teacher read were only fairy tales. One day, after Bible reading time, she said, “That’s a nice fairy tale. Who made it up?” The teacher was outraged and called her mother to come pick her up. She never came back. They threw an innocent 3-year-old girl out of her school for asking a question. Some kids actually started screaming when she said that. They thought she was the anti-Christ’s daughter. Imagine that.
          The rest of you that replied, you’re going a little too far overboard. You make it seem like my grandmother, and all other Christians, are evil. That’s not true. My religion has as much consistency as any other, including yours. You used words like “frightened”, “fables”, “irrational superstitions”, “troubled by irrationality of faith”, “threatening”, “forcibly terminated” and more that imply I’m being horribly abused and brainwashed. They’re not evil; they’re really good people.

        • TheCakeIsALie says:

          Zuri,

          I would like to just give a virtual high-five to you for questioning my faith (I don’t know if you still believe in Christianity). It might seem absurd that a Christian encourages questioning the Bible, but I firmly believe that in order to decide if Christianity is right for you is to speak against it, push the envelope so to speak. That way you bring out truth. I’m part of a youth community that meets at a theological seminary to question faith. That’s the mission of it. To ask questions and find the truth for ourselves. The thing is, is that any religion is welcome there. They even took a recent trip to Thailand to be greeted (and they welcomed) by the Buddist teachings in store for them. I wish you the best of luck in your search for truth, and I may steal your second paragraph of your second post about not all Christians being evil, just a heads-up.

          Stick to your guns, and don’t let your finger hop off the trigger until you’re satisfied.

    • tony allen says:

      as long as the display of religious icons aren’t on public property, I don’t have a problem with them either.

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