I run around town, around round the round… Wow, that last post was terrible

There’s a lesson from this.  I shouldn’t blog while tired and ill.

For those of you who struggled through my last post, I apologise sincerely.  I tried to wade through it this afternoon and realised that I could barely make heads and tails of it.  There’s several different ideas going on all at once, and it hasn’t turned out well.

Fortunately, Simon and The Key of Atheist were here to let me know that things had gone very wrong indeed.

So to summarise what that last post should have said:

1. Andrew Lovley promotes a view of ‘accommodationism’ where atheists concentrate on shared values without analysing the underlying reason for the commonality of those values.  Most atheists hold moral values which can only be justified through appeal to Judeo-Christian concepts of the world, but they render this basis invisible by saying that they are really secular values.  We should do this, he says, because it’s a sign of maturity.

2.  I think a proper sign of maturity is a distinctly atheist concept of the social project (atheism qua atheism).  Contra Lovley, I don’t think we should focus on our similarities.  I think we should stop trying to derive a secular culture from the overlap between our current beliefs.

3.  The Key of Atheist also thinks that Lovley is incorrect, but for different reasons.  The argument there is that Lovley views his accommodationism to be more or less mutually exclusive from more confrontational forms of activism.  TKoA argues that they’re not mutually exclusive and can be instead mutually beneficial.  TKoA links the atheist movement to the gay movement, stating that the two different forms of activism complemented each other.

4.  I consider the confrontational forms of activism in the gay community are different to the confrontational forms of activism in the atheist community.  Where the former caused confrontation by being openly gay, the atheist community isn’t causing confrontation by being openly atheist.  Instead, atheists are being dicks and that’s a bad thing.

5.  Also, unrelated to everything else, being confrontational by being dicks results in religious types clinging more tightly to their irrationality.  Instead of attacking the belief, most of the dickish behaviour is attacking people’s sense of identity.  Most atheists don’t see it that way because they don’t link religious belief to identity.  It’s also why so many outspoken atheists run head first into racism regarding Islam.

That basically covers the major points I was making in a confused and unclear way.  TKoA did me the great courtesy of trying to make sense of the ideas in my ramble and responding to them.  I thought I’d focus on the biggest and most contentious point:

[Mark] neglects the genuine prejudice that still exists against atheists, and the difficulty that many existing communities have with recognizing any kind of secular identification. I’ve never had much difficulty myself, but I’ve spoken with enough activists from other backgrounds to know that I’m the exception. Black and First Nations atheists often have a very different story. Same goes for those from majority Muslim countries. Same again for white activists from predominantly religious areas of the United States and Canada.

The numbers are pretty clear. Many people report negative feelings about atheists, and a secular outlook is still all but a guarantee of total unelectability. Off the top of my head I think Pete Stark is the only openly atheist senator, and he wasn’t out until after his first election. Can we really dismiss an effort to address all of these problems as completely worthless? Again, it seems like such an extreme sentiment that I’m not entirely certain it was the intended one. Suffice to say I think atheist activism is worthwhile because it makes it easier for people to be atheist if they want to be, and of course they should have that right. [Source: The Key of Atheist: ‘In Which Somebody Disagrees With Me, I Think?’]

I don’t just neglect the prejudice towards atheists; I actively deny that it exists.

The study cited includes important points which are routinely overlooked.

[W]hile our study does shed light on questions of tolerance,we are more interested in what this symbolic boundary tells us about moral solidarity and cultural membership.  We believe that attitudes toward atheists tell us more about American society and culture than about atheists themselves, and that our analysis sheds light on broader issues regarding the historic place of religion in underpinning moral order in the United States. [Source: http://www.soc.umn.edu/~hartmann/files/atheist%20as%20the%20other.pdf]

What we’re not seeing in society is atheists earning less than theists, for example.  Atheists really aren’t an oppressed minority, despite what others have tried to claim.  The survey that people keep citing was not looking at prejudice towards atheists: it was looking at how people delineate cultural membership.

Respondents had various interpretations of what atheists are like and what that label means. Those whom we interviewed view atheists in two different ways.  Some people view atheists as problematic because they associate them with illegality, such as drug use and prostitution—that is, with immoral people who threaten respectable community from the lower end of the status hierarchy.  Others saw atheists as rampant materialists and cultural elitists that threaten common values from above—the ostentatiously wealthy who make a lifestyle out of consumption or the cultural elites who think they know better than everyone else. [Ibid.]

The purely anecdotal part of this is that atheists like Dawkins, Hitchens, et al. made it more difficult for me to be open about my atheism.  The moment I dropped the A-bomb, I’d be forced to distinguish my opinions and beliefs from those more prevalent.  The toxic discourse from the Big Name Atheists — which, in historic terms, is remarkably extreme — is affecting the way the mainstream conceptualises atheists.  It’s why it seems more socially appropriate to call oneself an agnostic instead of an atheist.

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Author: Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher is a Canberra-based blogger and policy wonk who writes about conservatism, atheism, and popular culture. Read his blog at OnlyTheSangfroid. He tweets at @ClothedVillainy

7 thoughts on “I run around town, around round the round… Wow, that last post was terrible”

  1. Far tastier food for thought, this post is! But where to begin?

    Ah yes, let’s start with the study you quote. This study suggests that ‘attitudes toward gay people tell us more about American society and culture than about gay people themselves, and that our analysis sheds light on broader issues regarding the historic place of gender norms in underpinning moral order in the United States.’

    Whoops, I might have misquoted a bit. Maybe I’d better move on…

    What is this racism that so many atheists allegedly have regarding Islam? Did Islam become a race when I wasn’t looking? And here I thought it was a belief system, and therefore open to criticism like other belief systems. Bugger! Guess I’d better stop saying that Wahhabism is bad, because as you imply, Wahhabists are biologically predisposed towards oppressing, um, everyone. It’s like skin colour. You’re right: it’s a racial thing.

    Many things go into our sense of identity. However, identities are not static, and any individual possesses a number of identities which interact and often conflict with one-another. Is it really a dick move to attack people for identifying with groups or positions that we thing are bad, by appealing to other identities they may hold, such as being a nice, rational person? I thought that this was part of any critical discourse. Do you think that it would be better not to anger people by criticising what they believe? Please say ‘no’.

    Contrary to what you assert, there is strong evidence that confronting religious people and tenaciously attacking their beliefs causes at least some of them to cling less tightly to those beliefs, rather than cling ‘more tightly to their irrationality.’ Incidentally, I am uncomfortable with suggesting that religious belief isn’t rational, but that’s sort of besides the point.

    As for the second part of the study you quote: ‘Respondents had various interpretations of what homosexuals are like and what that label means. Those whom we interviewed view homosexuals in two different ways. Some people view homosexuals as problematic because they associate them with illegality, such as drug use and prostitution—that is, with immoral people who threaten respectable community from the lower end of the status hierarchy…’

    Oy gevalt, I did the misquoting thing again, and now I’ve forgotten the point I was trying to make by it. Derp!

    1. Ha. It’s funny because you replaced the word ‘atheist’ with ‘gay’, amirite? Because if you do that, the rest of the study magically rewrites itself to be about discrimination because you’re referencing a discriminated group, yeah? Ha.

      ‘Did Islam become a race when I wasn’t looking?’

      Are the Irish a race?

      ‘Is it really a dick move to attack people for identifying with groups or positions that we thing are bad, by appealing to other identities they may hold, such as being a nice, rational person?’

      Say what?

      ‘there is strong evidence that confronting religious people and tenaciously attacking their beliefs causes at least some of them to cling less tightly to those beliefs’

      Cite away.

      ‘Oy gevalt, I did the misquoting thing again, and now I’ve forgotten the point I was trying to make by it. Derp!’

      Ha. You dun goofed.

      1. Very perceptive! Yes, the study you cited to support your argument that discrimination against atheists is different to discrimination against gay people does seem to scan perfectly well with the word ‘atheist’ replaced with ‘homosexual.’ Funny, that.

        The Irish are not a race. They are a nationality. Islam is a religion. There are some key differences between them. For example, one of them involves positive statements of belief.

        I cite some evidence in my own blog post as to how confrontation works. It’s the same evidence that TKoA cited, though, so if you didn’t read it when he cited I’m not optimistic that you’ll read it when I do.

        1. Wait… You think that replacing a word with another is evidence that the report rewrites itself? If you replace the word ‘atheist’ with ‘gay’ in that report, it doesn’t make the report about homophobia. You get that, yeah?

          ‘The Irish are not a race’

          Oh, so when they were classified as their own race, that was just a mistake? What a silly mistake! If only they’d had you around to let them know that the classification of ‘Irish’ as a race was incorrect. I’m sure they’d have appreciated it.

          So what are the races?

          ‘I cite some evidence in my own blog post as to how confrontation works. It’s the same evidence that TKoA cited, though, so if you didn’t read it when he cited I’m not optimistic that you’ll read it when I do.’

          Oh, so there’s no evidence then.

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