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Links With Your Coffee - Monday

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  • Weekend Accommodationism

    Let me pose a question to the accommodationists, what sort of criticism of religion is acceptable? Is the answer to replace descriptions using terms like batshit crazy with irrational, delusional with a disordered state of mind, and imaginary friend with mental constructs lacking sufficient evidence of existing? Please help us out here. Perhaps someone, maybe Riley or JB would be willing to provide us with a list of criticisms of religion that could be made without being accused of being rude.

  • Every Republican in Congress Calls in Sick
  • Johann Hari: The Pope, the Prophet, and the religious support for evil

    This enforced 'respect' is a creeping vine: it soon extends from ideas to institutions
    What can make tens of millions of people – who are in their daily lives peaceful and compassionate and caring – suddenly want to physically dismember a man for drawing a cartoon, or make excuses for an international criminal conspiracy to protect child-rapists? Not reason. Not evidence. No. But it can happen when people choose their polar opposite – religion. In the past week we have seen two examples of how people can begin to behave in bizarre ways when they decide it is a good thing to abandon any commitment to fact and instead act on faith. It has led some to regard people accused of the attempted murders of the Mohamed cartoonists as victims, and to demand "respect" for the Pope, when he should be in a police station being quizzed about his role in covering up and thereby enabling the rape of children.
  • The Grammarianator
  • James Randi Gay

 

Comments

what sort of criticism of religion is acceptable?

There is no answer. Any criticism at all forces the question of the existence of the supernatural. Anyone that supports the notion of a supernatural does so without evidence. It isn't reasonable to do so, and to be accused of being unreasonable, when it is obviously so, is embarrassing. It is rude to embarrass another, that is why any discussion of the topic is potentially unacceptable.

Any believer that accepts such a discussion does so with the assumption that supernatural forces are a possibility. That possibility is enough to 'accept' the truth of it for believers. Of course one can conjure anything they desire when the restraints of natural laws are lifted.

This must be why no one tells me my fly is down for hours on end.

First of all, I think Whyevolutionistrue is concern-trolling about concern trolling.

Secondly, of course, there's no telling who is going to accuse you of being rude, but I submit Daniel Dennet's critique of religion, and the manner in which he delivers it, as an exemplary model of the list you seek.

I never cease to be impressed by Daniel Dennet. He manages to probe deeply and without compromise into the most uncomfortable taboos - and he does it with compassion. Neil Degrasse Tyson is another notable person - especially in contrast to Christopher Hitchens.

I think De Dora's criticism of atheism applies quite well when applied to people such as Christopher Hitchens and Bill Maher. These two don't so much promote and embrace reason as much as they attack and malign religion. I think there is an important difference there worthy of keeping in mind. Whyevolutionistrue seems to think that any criticism of religion from an atheist, must necessarily promote reason. I think he's wrong. If I had the time, I'd refer you to examples, but I would point you to the "Rational Response Squad" message boards for starters.

It is human nature to bond more readily with someone who shares a hatred for an "other", than to someone whom we share a similar interest. It's an ugly part of human nature and I think we need to pay vigilant attention to that human tendency. Hitchens gathers follower to the "atheist cause" primarily by stimulating their disgust. If De Dora's criticism of atheism as "divisive" needs and example, surely Hitchens provides it in spades. Whyevolutionistrue would have us believe that atheism must necessarily be divisive because "advocating any cause that isn’t universally popular will divide people?" -- come on, talk about concern trolling. Yes, of course, anytime you have more than one opinion on a subject, you have divided people.

The real concern here is I think: are atheists alienating people unnecesarily? I agree with De Dora in this case. Yes, I believe there is a large portion of people in the atheist movement that are driven more by a disgust for "other", than by excitement for including the "other" in a positive endeavor, and that element is worth being concerned about (fyi: I'm not generally a fan of De Dora, but I defend good points when I think they are defensible).

Compare and contrast Hitchens and Tyson. Both arguing for reason, one divides few to unites many in a positive spirit, the other unites a few in a shared ridicule and disgust of others:

Neil Degrasse Tyson: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zfAzaDyae-k&feature=player_embedded#

Christopher Hitchens: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JzoyQDbtR2I&feature=related

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My question to you is:

"Is it right that criticism of religion is more taboo than criticism of any other belief?"

I'm pretty sure that there is no belief more coddled than the beliefs that people claim are "religious". But those beliefs (just like political beliefs) have real-world consequences. Why should the foundations of those beliefs not receive criticism?

Assuming you agree with this (and surely you must, or otherwise we'd have no grounds to criticize child rape, honor killings, etc.), in what way would you recommend criticizing religion that doesn't concede important points before they are made?

For example, a YEC says big bang cosmology isn't true because the timeline of cosmology and biblical genealogies don't match. You pretty much have to say that basing your ideas on genealogies in an ancient book of stories is pretty preposterous.

When people argue against abortion on biblical grounds, the same holds true. Education of evolution, the same. Contraception, gay rights, the list goes on. These are publicly held beliefs with serious policy implications and many terrible ideas by theists because they are supposedly supported by an ancient amalgam of stories.

This is a fact. If we want to make policy arguments against people who hold convictions that rely on an "infallible" book, how do you make a case without criticizing their beliefs or engaging in a patronizing form of sophistry (i.e. quoting their own book at them)?

Is it right that criticism of religion is more taboo than criticism of any other belief?

no. This is a red herring. Of course all beliefs should be open to criticism, but there are different ways to go about it. You can criticize belief effectively without promoting a community united by disgust for the people that hold those beliefs.

If we want to make policy arguments against people who hold convictions that rely on an "infallible" book, how do you make a case without criticizing their beliefs or engaging in a patronizing form of sophistry (i.e. quoting their own book at them)?
This is a straw man. De Dora in no way suggests that there is anything wrong with "criticizing their beliefs" . Similarly, whyevolutionistrue critique of De Dora's argument is full of straw men, usually in the form of hyperbolic arguments like for example this:

whyevolutionistrue writes: "Would De Dora just have us go after 'irrational ideologies' in general without mentioning religion?" De Dora states explicitely that he is for a more 'comprehensive' approach. De Dora makes this clear throughout the paragraph that whyevolutionistrue quotes from in his critique. De Dora wrote : "while theism is a problem, it is not the problem [...] the larger predicament we face is uncritical adherence to ideology -- a problem that spans more than just religion [...] The approach must be more comprehensive."

What does De Dora have to do to get his point across that Theism is a problem? Write it in all caps? Or does he need to add a footnote that "Theism" is a form of religion?

Step 1 - Refer to the religious as Theists.

It would be interesting to find examples of criticisms of other domains that are considered normal, not rude, and compare them with equivalent statements about religion. My feeling is that theists believe that religion occupies a privileged place in the exchange of ideas.

If true the question then becomes is there any rational reason that religion should occupy such a status vis a vis other domains. I've observed people with an emotional stake in political views, economic theories and other strongly held beliefs that behave in much the same way as the religious do, but without apologists to defend their fragile feelings.

i'm no accomodationist, norm. i've said it before and i'll say it again- i think the muslims must be physically fought to a standstill- again- and the christians should be laughed or shamed out of town, insofar as some of them are capable of shame- unlike the muslims. the jews should be left alone to take over the world. what's so complicated? we'll gaurantee your right to visit darwins grave, how's that? you wouldn't get that from the muslims. or the ignorant fundamentalist christians who are usually twisting your knickers. and i may take you on as an adviser/ harmless atheist figurehead. if you're nice and keep sticking up for poor people.

rileys posts were great, btw.

note that De Dora in his article, does not seem to have a particular problem with the critical approach that for example, Sam Harris takes and not at all apparently with Daniel Dennet.

His criticism is mainly with Christopher Hitchens and RIchard Dawkins, and even then, it's qualified:

Here's what De Dora writes:

consider some of the following: Hitchens has charged Christianity is a “wicked cult” (6); Dawkins has said that “it is absolutely safe to say that, if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane” (7); Myers has publicly desecrated a communion wafer and called the WWII Pope Pius XII a “sniveling rat bastard” (8); and even Harris wrote that the Bible and Quran contain “mountains of life-destroying gibberish" (9). And these are just the tip of the iceberg, and in fact, Dawkins has called for even sharper rhetoric (10). While these statements might be true, aren’t there more sophisticated, thoughtful, and inviting ways to put them? Do these statements make discussion attractive to other parties? Does it allow for progressive discourse?

Given that Dedora apparently has no problem whatsoever with Dennett and maybe only occasionally a quip with Sam Harris, De Dora is most definitely not saying that the criticism should be any less energetic and direct. What he appears to be promoting is an approach that is unnecessarily combative (e.g. cut out the pejoratives and personal attacks).

I liken the desecrated a communion wafer to pissing on someone's grave ... there's no good reason why either act should upset anyone ... but it does. It might be true that you are ugly, but do I really need to tell you that? It might also be true that you are ignorant, but similarly, do I really need to tell you that? What is accomplished by saying it? Rationalizing it, as Dawkins does, by saying: "we're all ignorant about somehting, there's no shame in that" is nieve.

While these statements might be true, aren’t there more sophisticated, thoughtful, and inviting ways to put them?

Okay rephrase them in a way you find acceptable and tell me how you telling the Pope he really shouldn't be protecting pedophiles allows constructive discourse. Anyone else having admitted to obstructing justice would be in jail. If you called the pervert down the street a rat bastard for doing what the Pope has done I doubt you'd find many who would be offended. It once again is the privileged position we give religion. I don't agree that some of statements are unnecessary and over the top, but statements that are what I consider civil get criticized in similar ways.

If I said the Republican platform contained "“mountains of life-destroying gibberish," would it garner the same reaction as in the context of religion? If I said Sean Hannity is a "sniveling rat bastard" would anyone be as upset as they are if that's used to describe the Pope?

We can certainly be more civil in our discourse, but your failure to acknowledge the special status religion is allowed, that is what your saying isn't it, is troubling? The criteria seems to be the more emotional someone is about their belief the more we should tread lightly. I don't think that is a good idea.

i certainly see what you're saying, and have been for a long time, about the "priveliged" position of religious beliefs.

the pope's defense of sexual predators is not, as far as i know, an expression of his religious beliefs, but a matter of political import (to him).

and the "respect" he gets has nothing to do with those beliefs, rather, he is filthy, mordantly rich and commands an actual "army" with worldwide influence.

i daresay if you wanted to discuss pedophelia with your more-or-less rational and decent catholic neighbor, he wouldn't be demanding "respect" for child abuse.

muslims, on the other hand, believe it's perfectly ok to marry a 6 year old girl. their prophet did it. maybe you should be focusing on that, which is an actual tenet of their beliefs, as opposed to child sexual abuse vis-a-vis catholics.

btw i'm not trying to defend the pope, who is a prick and a nazi. i'm talking about your catholic neighbors, who do not try to justify terrible behaviour in the name of their religion, in general, although they are little freaky on birth control issues.

i daresay if you wanted to discuss pedophelia with your more-or-less rational and decent catholic neighbor, he wouldn't be demanding "respect" for child abuse.

No, but I suspect he would be apologetic for his child abuse enabling leader. He would demand that I be respectful towards that leader. What should I say, the Pope was a naughty boy. I suspect that would be reviewed as disrespectful. I get that rat bastard is strong, but sometimes strong language is necessary to get the point across, but with religion (all beliefs with a super strong emotional element) take offense at anything that challenges them.

Your failure to acknowledge the special status religion is allowed, that is what your saying isn't it, is troubling? The criteria seems to be the more emotional someone is about their belief the more we should tread lightly. I don't think that is a good idea.

No, you have my position wrong. I agree that religion is afforded a privileged status, and agree it should be allowed that privileged status.

Calling Sean Hannity a "sniveling rat bastard" is not something I would be offended by, certainly, but it's not constructive either. For two reasons:

1) If you are trying to promote your own self image, or the image of a group you represent, you are not doing a good job if you are spending your time calling someone a "sniveling rat bastard".

2) You are going to tend to draw a following of people to you who are not motivated to follow you for positive reasons, but because they get-off on being part of a mob that ridicules others.

I don't think all the examples De Dora lists are good examples either.

Deriding the Pope for apparent obstruction of justice and characterizing the Bible and Quran contain as “mountains of life-destroying gibberish" don't particularly bother me. But the context in which such criticism comes up is often destructive as when Hitchens uses such facts to paint with broad strokes everyone associated with the Catholic Church. Hitchens is like a schoolyard bully searching for a fight.

When Dawkins says: “it is absolutely safe to say that, if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane” ... that bothers me. It doesn't offend me personally, and I think it's may be true, but for reasons 1 and 2 above, I criticize it.

correction: agree it should be NOT allowed that privileged status.

Right, I read your other comment first in an email the system sends me and didn't see your correction immediately.

and agree it should be allowed that privileged status.

Is this what you meant to write?

I don't disagree that depending on the audience the unbridled bashing of religion can be counterproductive, and I would even agree that Hitchens if often a little too strident even for me. I see Dawkins strong language (stupid insane idiots) as one born of a frustration with people who are irrational. Those who will ignore evidence that clearly demonstrates their position is wrong. I often feel the same way when I talk to someone who seems immune to reason.

Are you less offended if I call Glenn Beck a rat sniveling bastard than if refer to the Pope in that way?

Are you less offended if I call Glenn Beck a rat sniveling bastard than if refer to the Pope in that way?
From my point of view, this is the wrong framing of the issue. question. My take is that if your goal is to gain acceptance for your point of view within the mainstream, adopting a rhetoric that is consistently peppered by pejorative and combatant language is hurting your cause - any cause. The Christopher Hitchens approach is sure to draw more and more of the angry-at-the-world types and that's exactly what you don't want to do, in my political opinion. You make it more and more difficult to bring "atheism" out of the closet and into the mainstream the more your movement is associated with the combative and demeaningly arrogant personas projected by Hitchens, Maher, and (whether fair or not, all most people hear are the sound-bites of him calling people ignorant or stupid) Dawkins.

I'm a big fan of Sam Harris, btw. He's not politic, but I never hear him use pejorative rhetoric and if given the chance he almost always will at some point articulate a positive vision. His handling of the situations in the Deepak Chopra ABC panel, for example, were masterful.

Also, btw, it's that segment of the atheist movement that ridiculed him for his interest in meditation that made it startlingly clear that the atheism movement contains another ugly, close-minded, knee-jerk, sub-movement that attacks anything that sounds like religion and that accepts uncritically new dogma, such as "religion poisons everything" or that "imagine no religion" means no 9/11.

Attacking the dogma of religion does not necessarily lead to less dogma, as whyevolutionistrue claimed.

as far as your lumping all religions together in terms of the "respect" that polite american society affords even the most insane of those beliefs, might i humbly use the jews as an example of how it just aint so.

as you know, it is a tenet of jewish religious belief that a little strip of land on the meditterranean sea was "given" to them by their god. i have pointed out many times that what "given" means, as far as the jews are concerned, is open to a great deal of interpretation. however:

taking the statement at whatever you goyim consider to be "face value" is definitely NOT a notion protected under this umbrella of "respect" that you claim all religions huddle under. rather, it is almost universally attacked, freely, openly and with no consideration for the fact that it's a "religious" idea, all over the world, and most especially here on this very blog.

so, that's fine with me, no problem. but what happened to this supposed "respect" accorded to religious ideas?

rather, i would say that some religions are more successful than others in protecting their own honor. and they do it not by demanding special treatment as "religions", but with threats of violence. something even scientists can understand. and now the jews are doing it too. as my friend from new yawk likes to say, boo fuckin' hoo.

as you know, it is a tenet of jewish religious belief that a little strip of land on the meditterranean sea was "given" to them by their god. i have pointed out many times that what "given" means, as far as the jews are concerned, is open to a great deal of interpretation. however:

The reason for that is that it's viewed as much as a Israeli government position as a religious position.

oh, it's "viewed" that way is it. after all my efforts here...

again: the power brokers of the zionist movement, up to and including the modern govt. of israel, were and are completely secular. i would say "atheistic" but many of them would probably deny this, just like your politicians, and for the same reasons. let's just say the only god they even consider is the god of israel, and they don't really give a shit about what she thinks except to use a few "historical" statements in the bible for their own purposes. they were/are not religious in any way and didn't/don't claim to be.

their " religion" is that the jews have suffered enough at the hands of the nations of the world and and now it's time that we torture each other without outside interference. teh palestinian issue, is, frankly, a mere distraction from this supremely important goal. and that's the truth. sorry about the offtopic, you know how i love to rant about this stuff.

fuggedaboudit: listen to riley, he makes sense.

btw, and i think this is important: my description of israeli religion vs. politics above is almost exactly the same as the more reasonable and historically savvy atheists here and elsewhere describe the u.s.a.

that is, "we'll be damned if you will be allowed to call our founding fathers religious! lukewarm deists, maybe, but their thinking was completely unshackled from the religious dogma of their fathers, and was rather based on reason, practicality, and necessity, combined with some kind of reverence for the dignity and rights of man in the face of tyrannical authority that they got from...er...somewhere."

:)

OK, I tried. Keep in mind, that's a direct appeal to Christians, and as I've said before here, slanders against individual believers tend only to create resentment and actually harden them in their clutching at falsehood. Most who read here will think me weak, but that's a personal judgment, so I don't mind.

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