Why do you care what I believe?

PriestsAztec“Why do you care what I believe?”

A common objection from many varieties of the faithful from many religions.

“What business is it of yours if I believe a magical space fairy farted the universe out after eating the primal beans?”

Here’s a little roleplaying exercise to help you understand.

Imagine I come up to you and say:

“I believe that by cutting out your heart with this obsidian knife and offering it to the gods I can ensure a bountiful harvest.”

I submit to you that, at this point, it becomes REALLY FUCKING IMPORTANT what you believe. Especially as it relates to me.

Maybe you don’t want to actually kill anyone, but keep in mind that your irrational beliefs can and will have an impact beyond yourself. Think of the position that gay people find themselves in with regard to marriage rights. Consider the abortion rights of women. Consider the dangerously ignorant teaching of creationism in schools.

People with irrational beliefs vote, protest, act, agitate. They try to enforce their own beliefs over others who do not share them – and not for the common good.

Quite apart from anything else, the perpetuation of the idea that faith is a valid reason for… well… anything is dangerous in and of itself. Belief without evidence is completely nuts and once someone has abdicated reason in such a way is hard to dislodge from it because, having rejected evidence they’re unlikely to accept it in refutation what they believe or to show something else as true.

I care what you believe because it directly and indirectly harms us both.

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(Im)Proving God(arguments)

 

I got screencapped on a blog by Jennifer Fulwiler raising some questions and objections to her – alleged – conversion from atheism to Christianity. I have my suspicions about anyone who claims that, and Mrs Fulwiler’s claim seems to be based on an argument that amounts to: “Look how cute my baby is. Therefore, god.”

The blog post goes into a bit more detail, but ultimately it kills itself off before it even gets going.

But since religion cannot be proven in any kind of verifiable way, a person cannot both subscribe to an evidence-based way of evaluating the world and be a believer. One or the other has to go. Right?

Right. End of blog post then yeah?

No?

It started with a conversation with my grandfather, an engineer who worked his way through college by shoveling coal during the Great Depression, and went on to build complicated refineries all over Mexico and South America. He’s not overtly religious, and I always assumed that with his keen intelligence and careful, analytical way of thinking, he must be an atheist. So when it came out that he believes in God, it piqued my interest.

It figures that he would be an engineer. Engineers are notably more conservative and religious. Quite why this is isn’t particularly known but when it comes to creationism I suspect it is to do with being predisposed to ‘making things’ and thinking that this is the only way that things can come about.

I began to consider that many of the pioneers of science believed in God — Newton, Galileo, Kepler, Copernicus, Boyle, and Mendel, to name just a few. Almost all the great Greek and Roman thinkers of antiquity believed that supernatural forces were at work in the world. In fact, among people considered to be the greatest minds of history, only a small percentage were atheists.

This is an argument from authority and, therefore fallacious. Further, while these men may have been believers their work was not on god and did not prove gods existence. In the case of many of them their work has done quite the opposite (perhaps most notably Galileo and Copernicus) and this put them in opposition to the Christian religion.

To pick out a favourite example, Newton, as well as being a theist Newton was a ritual magician and an alchemist. Are we, then, to also believe that demons and spirits can be controlled with magic words and circles scribed on the ground? Should we abandon science and take up pursuit of the philosopher’s stone? Hopefully Mrs Fulwiler wouldn’t want anyone to take up those pursuits. So why make the exception for this singular, particular line of unproven nonsense?

Was I really ready to say that I was a more analytical thinker than my engineer grandfather? Was I seriously going to claim that the monk Gregor Mendel, the father of modern genetics, did not require evidence before believing a theory to be true? Did I honestly think that it never occurred to Galileo to question assumptions?

Mrs Fulwiler has misidentified the problem. It isn’t so much the degree of genius or analytical thinking but whether that analytical thinking is applied to the question of god or not. People are fully capable of holding contradictory ideas or cordoning off certain sets of ideas from critical analysis. Skepticism and critical thinkings are ways of addressing and overcoming this tendency and the result is atheism. Not that atheists aren’t also capable of abandoning skepticism and critical thinking when it comes to their own pet causes.

One must also consider the historical context. For a great many years not being a believer (or being the wrong kind of believer) was a death sentence and if it wasn’t a death sentence it was a social death sentence. An obscenely wealthy church also held a lot of purse strings. Still, despite this science did advance – usually when religion retreated. The two biggest leaps in scientific knowledge before the present day came with The Renaissance and The Enlightenment, both associated with a weakening of religion.

I set out on a search for truth about the spiritual realm, which pretty quickly led me to the only lasting world religion whose founder claimed to be God. I came to see that there was a strong case that a person named Jesus of Nazareth did exist. I thought it was interesting that Christianity spread like wildfire through the ancient world, despite the fact that becoming a Christian often meant persecution or even death.

The term ‘spiritual’ might as well be a noise. It is so loosely defined as to be useless.

The grandiosity of a claim doesn’t make it more likely to be true. It does increase the amount of evidence required. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

There is no historical evidence for Jesus, whatsoever. This is an unpopular opinion to be sure, but one easily refuted by the producing of even a single piece of evidence. To call the case ‘strong’ is so wrong as to be laughable.

Many religions have spread fast. This is an argument from popularity. Put it this way, in current times Islam is growing faster and, in the west, atheism and neopaganism are growing faster than both (or were a couple of a years ago). Put another way, more people in the world don’t believe in any particular religion than do. People are also willing to die for a great many causes, religions and ideologies. It doesn’t lend them any credibility that people will die for them.

I didn’t know where to turn, so I decided to do an experiment: something rang true about Augustine’s famous statement that you must believe so that you might understand, and so I began to live my life as if God did exist. I prayed, even though I felt like I was talking to myself; I followed the Christian moral code; I read the Bible and honestly tried to understand what it might be trying to teach me.

This is an open invitation to confirmation bias. This ‘experiment’ is, in essence, brainwashing. Except you’re doing it to yourself. An analytical approach is one where you try to prove an idea wrong at least as much as you try to show it to be right. Further, I rather doubt that Ms Fulwiler has stoned any adulterers to death lately. She’s probably eaten shellfish and I’m fairly sure she’s wearing mixed fabrics in some of those photos on her blog. She’s been applying an independent moral filter to Christian morality which only goes to show that morality doesn’t derive from or conform to the Bible.

The more I went through the motions of believing in God, the more the world made sense to me; the more human history made sense to me; the more I started to make sense to me. The picture of human life that I’d formed based on science alone now seemed incomplete. I still believed everything I’d learned through the lens of science, but I now saw a whole other dimension to the world around me.

And people feel the same way about the teachings of any and every guru, self-help book and bagload of nonsense you care to mention. It doesn’t make a single one of them any more credible.

When I considered this experience in light of the evidence for Jesus of Nazareth, the improbable spread of early Christianity, and the seamless and perfectly internally consistent traditional Christian moral code that has stood strong for two thousand years…

What can you say to that but ‘lol’. I mean… really.

I can show you lots of evidence, and, if you’re willing to consider it with an open mind, I think I can make the case that this belief system is at least worth a second look. But I cannot prove its truth to you in the way I can prove that the earth revolves around the sun. The human soul is a necessary component of the God experiment, and the laboratory in which it takes place is the individual human heart. Yes, there is compelling, verifiable evidence for the truths of this belief system, but an analysis of evidence will not — cannot — get you all the way there.

So no. You can’t show anyone any evidence. An open mind is not an uncritical mind. I don’t think you can make this case and if you can’t show it in that way, then you’ve nothing to show. There’s no reason to think there’s a soul either so making that a requirement is like saying you can’t find Nessie without the help of Bigfoot. As with any believer, you’re invited to present this supposed evidence and see if it stands up to scrutiny, but I doubt that it will.

I still doubt Mrs Fulwiler was ever an atheist beyond simply apathetically not believing. She called evolution ‘random’ and doesn’t seem to be knowledgeable of many of the contradictions and issues of Christianity. It just doesn’t sit right.

I began to consider that many of the pioneers of science believed in God — Newton, Galileo, Kepler, Copernicus, Boyle, and Mendel, to name just a few. Almost all the great Greek and Roman thinkers of antiquity believed that supernatural forces were at work in the world. In fact, among people considered to be the greatest minds of history, only a small percentage were atheists. – See more at: http://www.conversiondiary.com/2013/09/on-proving-god.html#sthash.d05RpBM6.dpuf

Mo Plus, Mo Problems

x0dvjr.jpgNot wanting to obsess, but not wanting to slacken off on the pushback that currently seems to be happening with reference to Atheismplus, here’s some more on the issues with it. Some of this is grounds I’ve covered before so I’m not going to be too wordy. I’m going to try and keep things relatively short and sweet.

There’s a couple of posts over on the Atheismplus forums that have been referenced to me and these posts constitute the establishment of a dogma.

This one contains canned responses to typical objections. Not responses that address the objections or concerns but rather, like linking to Derailing for Dummies or Feminism101 (or in the case of creationists endless Youtube videos) seems intended to keep you busy and dismiss you.

This one contains links to a glossary of terms used by Atheismplus, some of which are fine, some of which are deeply problematic. Communication is only possible where meaning is agreed upon and merely insisting that a term must carry a particular meaning in a debate isn’t especially helpful.

I’m referencing these as I talk

Naming Conventions

The problem with the name ‘atheismplus’ is that the kind of people who are part of atheismplus are exactly the kind of extremists that critics of atheism often claim we all are. They lend meat to the bones of the lie that we’re all whacked out hippies. It is vital to differentiate atheism and its causes and interests from other issues. This confuses, divides, reduces the number of people who feel able to participate etc. A+ gives atheism a bad name and provides aid to its enemies.

Privilege as Original Sin

The objection to this observation is hollow. The concept of privilege is akin to original sin, save perhaps worse, since it isn’t seemingly presumed to apply to everyone. ‘Heaven’ help you if you should be white, straight and/or male. You’re the ‘oppressor’ whether you do anything to oppress or not. ‘Check your privilege’ is a dismissal such as would not be tolerated in the other direction. It devalues a person, denies their empathy and ignores – without bothering to check – any instances of oppression they might have had in their life. It also dismisses the possibility that someone both HAS checked it and STILL disagrees with you. It doesn’t give you greater opportunity to help others, it puts you off even trying to help people who are judgemental arseholes.

Never Seen it, It Doesn’t Happen

It is not skeptical to believe a thing without evidence for a thing. If A+ people are going to claim a thing, they need evidence for that thing. Just as we would demand of theists. Insisting someone is blind if you present poor evidence that is rejected is, again, similar to theism. “The fool says in his heart there is no Patriarchy.”

I don’t think X is a Problem

X may or may not be a problem. That I don’t find it to be one doesn’t mean it isn’t, that you find it is a problem doesn’t mean it is. Again, we need evidence. If someone has a phobia of spiders and freaks out upon seeing a perfectly harmless house spider then there isn’t really a problem with spiders. Their reaction is irrational. Spiders don’t suddenly become a major issue for everyone because you’re phobic of them.

Discrimination is Illegal, so there’s no discrimination

Legally there isn’t. There may be on a personal level but that generally takes at least a generation to change. It can’t hurt you anywhere the law can protect you and it doesn’t really help to be impatient about it. The fight is won, the peace is being negotiated.

Everyone is Oppressed in their own way

Yes, they are. To different extents in different situations in different ways. The death-camp for gay people thing is more than a bit disingenuous but to take a different example gender and race do get oppressed by others in different contexts and situations. That some outlier advocates something loopy doesn’t make that go away. That X is worse than Y doesn’t make Y OK. (Dear Muslima…)

What About teh Menz?

If feminism were about equality it might be called egalitarianism. It’s not. It’s concerned with areas in which women are behind men. It is not concerned with areas in which women are ahead of men or in which men are behind women. There are no feminist campaigns about unequal sentencing in courts, for example. There are no feminist campaigns trying to push for higher male custody in divorce proceedings. Men and women have different problems, yes, absolutely, but that’s why feminism is unsuited to tackle them and is disinterested in them.

‘Patriarchy hurts men too’ is not only paradoxical (if it hurts men, how can it be patriarchy?) but insulting and demeaning. Implying that men deliberately set up a society to hurt themselves while simultaneously oppressing women. That would be a frighteningly incompetent state of affairs.

This is further compounded by the vicious and virulent hatred shown towards men’s groups that do try to address mens issues. Feminists don’t seem to want to even allow men’s issues to be addressed.

Schroedinger’s Rapist

Why the problem with this cannot be seen I don’t know. This concept is prejudice pure and simple. It is akin to expecting any black man you meet on the street to be a potential mugger. Framed that way hopefully nobody would see such prejudice as acceptable, even though a vague attempt at a rational argument for it could be made based on statistics (though that would ignore court/police prejudice and socioeconomic data). Further, this seems to be expecting to force a change in behaviour on men, men who are the victims of this prejudice. This is victim blaming. For groups that fight so hard for women not to be judged and to allow them the freedom to exist without modifying their behaviour (slutwalk, Don’t Be That Guy etc) this is base hypocrisy.

Meaning of ‘Man’

Given the misunderstanding of this as a gender pronoun I don’t think more’s needed here.

Mean Jokes

Humour often relies on a ‘shock’ payload. If you think it is always genuinely reflective of a person’s real views and is intended to be (or is) hateful or hurtful then you’re likely experiencing a sense of humour failure. For everyone of hypersensitivity there is someone else who can take a joke or engages in self-deprecating humour of this type. Humour is too valuable to discard.

A+ is Divisive

It is. At least we were all unified in our atheism before, the thing that mattered universally to all of us. A+ splits that unity. It also discards skepticism. It seems to me that A+ puts the cart before the horse. Its members seem to have been atheist not because of logic, reason, evidence and skepticism but rather because atheism aligned with their pre-existing other values such as opposing restrictions on abortions (religious basis), secularism, resisting religious oppression of LGBT people etc.

Us Vs Them

The problem in this section is the presumption that the only people who could possibly disagree are a) theists or b) bigots. It is possible to disagree with Atheismplus without being a bigot, just as it is possible to disagree with Josef Stalin while still being a Communist. or President Obama while still being a democrat. This illustrates very much the Us Vs Them that so concerns a lot of people. Many atheists are broadly on board with what are CLAIMED to be the A+ goals, just not with A+ itself due to its dogma, lack of skepticism etc.

Free Speech

A+ advocates, and other SJ extremists, narrowly define censorship as government censorship. Not everyone agrees with so narrow a definition and as such A+ in many of its actions and policies trips that ‘trigger’ for a lot of people.

First World Problems

Dear Muslima was both right and wrong. There are other priorities but that doesn’t mean other things aren’t also bad. Of course, we’re talking about Elevatorgate which was NOTHING AT ALL so anything whatsoever is a bigger problem than no problem. Still, given the dismissal of mens issues, prejudice towards supposed privileged groups etc this – again – smacks of hypocrisy.

The Dictionary

I’ll get to that in a moment. As mentioned before though, clear communication is important. A+ engages in many redefinition fallacies in order to try and avoid criticism. Redefining Free Speech (see above) is only one example.

Educate Me

Two problems with this. 1) Presuming people need educating. We may well be aware of your claimed issues etc and reject them. 2) Not doing so when asked.

When confronted with a creationist spouting BS about evolution we will, generally, make the effort to show them what is wrong with what they’re saying. Point out the misrepresentations etc. We do this because we want to change their mind and give them accurate information. We want to actually affect some sort of change in their behaviour.

Not wanting to inform people or change their behaviour suggests an addiction to the power and privilege of victim status, rather than actually wanting to fix the problem.

Glossary Issues

*ism – A+ and SJW types narrowly define *ism in the context of institutional oppression. Most people do not. The plus-power designation excuses SJW bigotry against ‘oppressor’ groups while ignoring equally outrageous prejudice on the part of the putative ‘oppressed’. We don’t reject your version without reason.

Benevolent *ism – This is ironic given that special treatment is often what is called for by SJ types. Equality is being treated as badly as everyone else.

Colourblind Racism – This makes no sense. The end goal, is it not, is to treat people as people isn’t it? For the content of their character rather than the colour of their skin? Colourblindness in the context of race, then, would seem to be the goal. Not perpetuating stereotypes, even if they’re different stereotypes to the usual.

Condesplaining – Use that instead of the *ist terms like ‘mansplaining’ etc which only make you seem like hypocrites.

Confirmation Bias – Glass houses and stones spring to mind for some reason.

Feminism – If you think modern feminism is about equality, you’re not paying attention. Be egalitarian.

Gender Essentialism – It seems rather foolish to presume that there aren’t differences. There are. Equal treatment and opportunity is not the same thing as homogeneity. You need to do more than just dismiss science just because you don’t like the implications. This is also true with ev psych. See confirmation bias above.

Kyriarchy – It was my understanding that this was a better term than patriarchy since it acknowledged that everyone was pressured in different ways by society and thus it made more sense. Calling it an extension of patriarchy undermines that progress.

Misandry – Well done for acknowledging its existence. Poorly done for thinking its not institutional.

Misogyny – This means hatred of women. Hatred of women is, at least not in the west, institutionally enforced. The term seems overused and to be used in instances where women are actually being placed on pedestals, given special privilege or treated with benevolent sexism. These may be patronising, but they’re not hate.

Prejudice – This definition again confuses the *ism point. *ism IS prejudice.

Reverse Racism – Of course reverse racism doesn’t exist. It’s just racism and it can be inflicted on whites as much as anyone else.

Safe Space – Translation: Echo chamber. Doubtless there is a need for safe spaces but these should probably be within a movement, rather than the movement itself. Ideas NEED questioning and examination.

Tone Argument – Another hypocrisy since it is used to excuse slurs, aggression and lack of backing on the part of SJ types: “Shut the fuck up dudebro!” while also being used to shut down, ignore or block people on the other side of the argument who should equally have the right to lose their temper.

Trigger Warnings – Pointless, useless ‘headers’ to posts that do nothing to protect anyone but show off how ‘right on’ and concerned you are. If people were that sensitive, the warning would trigger them.

Woo – …like patriarchy.

False, False Consciousness

cartoon030111tFalse Consciousness is a concept originally from Marxism (Engels) in which the idea is that society – under capitalism – is set up in such a way as to mislead the proletariat. The gist of which is that it misleads the average working man as to his prospects within that society in order to keep him docile and make him think he can become part of the dominant social class.

A prime example of this idea would be the meme of ‘The American Dream’ which is so far from reality that it couldn’t see it on a clear night with a telescope. The idea that the average American can ‘pull himself up by his bootstraps’ and is a ‘temporarily embarrassed millionaire’ (as Steinback would have it) is possibly one of the most insidious and widespread tools of social control imaginable.

Still, in the current age, sans McCarthy, with access to the internet and broad – if inadequate – education it’s not really fair to assume that people adhere to ideas simply because they’re ignorant of others and are divorced of choice. While indoctrination and societal influence plays a role it’s hard to separate stupidity, indoctrination and genuine belief.

The concept has been transferred to feminism in which it serves as an adjunct to the concept of ‘internalised misogyny’. False consciousness here is used to undermine women who claim they’ve never experienced sexism, that their choices of ‘traditional gender roles’ are their own and so on. This is possibly even less kosher than claiming it to be the case with laissez-faire capitalism. Traditional gender roles have been disrupted and challenged, arguably since the 1960s, moreso for women than men. At least, in the west, it’s hard to argue that women haven’t been exposed to a panoply of different ideas and concepts and thus a little insulting to the women who don’t choose suitably ‘liberated’ modes of life and roles to assume that it’s due to ignorance or them not having a mind of their own.

False Consciousness can, thus, be shown to have certain issues from a political/economic and gender perspective but it’s not completely without use. It’s a very problematic concept, especially when it comes to religious indoctrination. Unlike these other topics, religious indoctrination is powerfully and forcibly advanced virtually from birth and with a degree of absolutism one doesn’t – so much – find in ideologies outside of extreme radicalism.

How, then, are we to approach – for example – the issue of the hijab or burqa? Within Islamic nations there is genuinely zero choice, it’s cooperate or – in some cases – die. In the west it becomes a little more nuanced. Can someone living and working in a western country be said not to be exposed to alternative points of view on religious dress? Does a controlling subculture exert the same level of enforcement as a religious monoculture? We do get young women killed in the UK on matters of ‘honour’ and lack of modesty, or even simply being ‘too western’. At the same time we do get women who break free of this and choose not to wear these forms of religious clothing. Choice is, therefore, possible.

If free choice was not ever possible under any regime or degree of indoctrination there would never be change, revolt, revolution or innovation.

I don’t think we can adhere to the idea of False Consciousness as any sort of guide but, rather, must assess the context and degree of control in each instance. There’s no doubt that some people freely and of their own volition choose to put up with working for nothing, to be a 1950s housewife or to express their faith by wrapping themselves in a duvet to show their piety just as some people choose the opposite.

If a choice is a genuine, informed choice we need to find a way to accept that and not write off the person’s agency, while at the same time not letting that preclude us from making our own arguments and, even, trying to change their minds. Good, accurate, ideas should win out in the end.

Aethics – Touching Dick

vulture11bSo Dawkins produces a rather intelligent and nuanced statement in an interview for The Times Magazine and, yet again, makes the mistake of thinking that people reading it  will approach it with the same level of intelligence and nuance. That, along with a propensity for bluntness, are simultaneously his most frustrating and his most admirable qualities. What he said is being misrepresented as ‘OMFG DAWKINS IS EXCUSING PAEDOPHILIA!’ which isn’t remotely accurate, as can be seen by actually bothering to read the quotes that his detractors are using.

Let’s look at the extract, and I’ll add some emphasis in bold:

In an interview in The Times magazine on Saturday (Sept. 7), Dawkins, 72, he said he was unable to condemn what he called “the mild pedophilia” he experienced at an English school when he was a child in the 1950s.

Referring to his early days at a boarding school in Salisbury, he recalled how one of the (unnamed) masters “pulled me on his knee and put his hand inside my shorts[1].”

He said other children in his school peer group had been molested by the same teacher but concluded: “I don’t think he did any of us lasting harm[2].”

“I am very conscious that you can’t condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours. Just as we don’t look back at the 18th and 19th centuries and condemn people for racism in the same way as we would condemn a modern person for racism[3], I look back a few decades to my childhood and see things like caning, like mild pedophilia, and can’t find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today[4],” he said.

He said the most notorious cases of pedophilia involve rape and even murder and should not be bracketed with what he called “just mild touching up[5].”

Firstly, we don’t have the whole interview and the context of the comment. If this is anything like the normal state of affairs the journalist involved is looking for things that make good copy and, much like quote-mining from creationists, the outcome is rarely representative of the actual conversation or point.

Secondly, we have to contend with the fact that a lot of people are just out for Dawkins and whatever he says will be taken the worst way possible. This includes Christians, Muslims, political ‘moderates’ who think criticising Islam is racism and the internet commissars of social justice to be found in Atheismplus and the ironically named Freethought Blogs.

Taking the salient points from what he said.

[1]: Dawkins identifies himself as a victim. Normally, amongst many of his regular critics, this would mean he would have to be listened to and not criticised in any way. Whatever he said would have to be taken on board no matter how crazy. That this hasn’t happened here is encouraging, in that perhaps we can learn not to shield victims from examination, but also (further) demonstrates the hypocrisy of many of his critics. Note that sexual abuse in boarding schools was (is?) so common as to be a joke – much like prison rape – in the UK and given the background of most Tory MPs either explains or makes very strange their propensity to condemn homosexuality.

[2]: Saying it caused no ‘lasting harm’ is not the same as excusing it or saying it caused ‘no harm’. As a victim himself and now being successful and relatively unbothered by what happened to him he stands as evidential support for this thesis. If we are to believe that abuse etc of all forms is as widespread as some claim (rape, sexual assault) then there are millions upon millions of people who do cope in much the same way Dawkins has.

[3]: Much like technology, culture seems to be changing at a faster and faster rate. Morality changes with it. There are things we accept today that our ancestors would thoroughly condemn and vice versa. As skeptics and atheists many of us are condemned for our ‘moral relativism’ under the mistaken belief that it renders us incapable of making moral judgements rather than it simply being an acknowledgement that morality is a construct (much more so than gender, which is readily accepted as being a social construct in many quarters). Darwin is frequently criticised (ironically) by creationists for being a racist. This is in part due to a change in terminology (race and species) that confuses the poor dears, but also because – by modern standards – he was. That was, however, the conventional wisdom of the day and – for the day – Darwin was mightily progressive. He was an abolitionist, at least believed non-whites to be the same species as whites and worked with charities and missions to improve the lot of people in less salubrious circumstances. You don’t need to go back that far to see racism as accepted. The Black and White Minstrel Show didn’t end until 1978 and Bernard Manning was still getting work up into the 2000s in a postmodern and ironic way. Dawkins is simply acknowledging that morality shifts over time and that it can be unfair to judge people by modern standards when looking into the past. Even the relatively recent past.

[4]: Importantly, Dawkins here states that he condemns it today and in the moral context of today. Something that everyone seems to be missing in their rush to retweet their outrage to the world.

[5]: Black and white thinking is a scourge. Surely we can all accept that ‘bad stuff’ happens along a continuum and while everything along that continuum is bad there are things that are less bad and things that are more bad. Lest we forget, this is the same couple of days in which an eight year old child bride was fucked to death by her husband on her wedding night. Death is irrecoverable. Is that not worse than what Dawkins and his schoolmates suffered?

Morality is something I think a lot of us struggle with. The issue in Yemen is cultural in space as Dawkins issue is cultural in time. We can do better today, surely, than we did in the past and we can improve things in Yemen, can we not? Can we build a relatively objective moral framework based on sound reasoning and science and in doing so can we forgive the past and the actions of the ignorant and ‘holy’ or not?

This is complicated stuff and not suited to Twitter’s outrage mobs.

How Not to Kill Yourself – A Guide

dead_suicide_fingers_hanging_finger_desktop_1440x900_wallpaper-140926It’s national suicide prevention week in the US and, since we’re all connected by the internet, that tends to mean that ‘national’ for the US and other countries often becomes ‘international’. There’s tons of advice out there for people to talk to, signs to look out for and how to help people who may be feeling suicidal but not that much out there for the people who might actually be feeling that way. Medical resources are tight everywhere, even in nations with nationalised healthcare, so getting help – useful help – can be very difficult.

I suffer from moderate depression with bouts of severe and dangerous depression and suicidal ideation. I’ve been on the brink several times but have pulled back from it each time. While I think I’m qualified to offer insight because of this, what I offer here may not work for everyone. I’m just spelling out what’s helped me, in the past, to get through it.

1. Be Mindful

Learn to recognise the signs that you’re going off the deep end. If you’re anything like me you can – for a time – pretend to be OK, put up a façade, fool even professional therapists that you’re fine. The only person that really knows your inner world is you and nobody can save you from yourself except you. If you can feel yourself slipping and sliding or running out of the energy required to ‘seem normal’, it’s time to break down and find some help.

2. Stagger Your Coping Mechanisms

We all have them, some of them are very unhealthy (cutting, drinking, drugs etc) but they’re a damn sight better than killing yourself. When you can’t cope, try some of these things first rather than collapsing straight away. Muster what will you have left and do whatever it is that – sometimes – takes the edge off. Use the extra time that gives you to seek help.

3. Acquaint Yourself With the Suicide of Others

You may well know someone who killed themselves, odds are you know the family or friends of someone who did. Get to know the harm and upset that it caused, the devastation it left behind. Understand that suicide isn’t just self-harm but that it affects people who love you. Even if you can’t recognise that love in the moment. Examples from my life have helped me keep back from that brink and they’ve also kept me from serious self-harm and from drinking.

4. Get a Cat

Or another pet, even a dog I suppose. Unconditional affection from a little furry being that depends on you is a lifesaver. At my lowest ebb my cat forced his way into the bathroom and yowled at me – in a way he never has before or since – and reminded me that someone, at least, loved me and needed me.

***

Since this is still, ostensibly, an atheist blog, it’s worth mentioning a couple of things about this from the non-believers point of view.

A. Religious People Will Prey On You

Despair makes you weak and whether from the best intentions or not people will try to help you find Jesus (or whatever deity du jour is current in your location). If it’ll genuinely help I won’t begrudge you turning to Glob, but I don’t think it will help. Like any other displacing behaviour (drinking, self harm etc) getting that old time religion will only display the inevitable or cause it to emerge in new, twisted, nasty ways. If someone tells you this despair is because you don’t ‘know god’ you are fully justified in punching them in the nose.

B. You Have Less Support

This is more the case in America than elsewhere, but it is true that without a church you have less of a support group in your community. Build one. Go to evening classes. Join a band. Get to know people online. You don’t get a support group handed to you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have one.

C. The Natural World is Wonderful

If that can’t give you hope, nothing will. Every day science produces more knowledge, more beauty and more hope than we can hope to absorb in a lifetime. Why would you want to miss out on the next Hubble Deep Field or the first man on Mars?

The Atheism Plus/FTB Problem

pootargetIntroduction

Atheismplus continues to be a problem for the atheist community (such as it is). It’s easy to pour scorn, there are many opportunities to do so, but serious problems deserve a more serious response as well. Given past experience with A+ and their ‘sort’ in other arenas (games and fiction) is is incredibly hard to keep my temper when discussing this subject – but I’ll try. Given that we’re often told one can be both emotional and rational at the same time by the Plussers that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

Splitters!

New Atheism was a godsend (ha, ha). Open, loud, take-no-bullshit it united and created a whole new generation of vocal atheists and was led by some great minds with some real skill. Dennett, Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens gave us a profile and vocal, intellectual presence we hadn’t really had since Sagan. We lost Hitchens but the rest continue to do good work (yes, even Dawkins). New Atheism united us and aggressively took on the status quo, not least of all with mockery and derision. While this may not directly win any deconverts it does have a positive effect, despite being ‘mean’, in that it pops the bubble of respect that religion – with its ridiculous ideas – commands.

What’s the problem: To be an atheist, even a new atheist, all you have to do is not believe in god and, perhaps, to believe in separation of church and state. To be an Atheism+ person you must be an atheist, a feminist (for a rather narrow and specific definition of feminism), must adhere to particular views, language and modes of expression when it comes to sexuality, gender and many social issues. It narrows it down and down and down to a particular orthodoxy many of the ideas of which aren’t particularly scientific. Many of these ideas might be accepted within ‘gender studies’ etc but they’re not well supported. Fail to sign up to any of this and you’re out of the club.

 Confusing & Parochial

Any specialist area of study, including large parts of atheism and skepticism, develop specialist language that can get confusing. Acronyms, arguments etc can be impossible for outsiders to understand without explanation. Most people aren’t going to know (without googling) what terms like ‘interpolation’ or ‘burden of proof’ mean. The scientific meaning of theory is very specific and not the same as the colloquial meaning. If we start tossing around terms like ‘argumentum ad hominem’ when the apologists set in we may have to explain ourselves, not that the apologist is likely to believe us even when we do. Just look how often we have to explain what evolution actually means or that no, we didn’t come from modern monkeys. This stuff is hard and we take the time to teach others about it – and quite right too.

What’s the problem: The ‘plus’ part of A+ is, pretty much, made up of a rather parochial, insular subculture centred around an extreme form of ‘liberalism’ (in the American sense) that seems to meet the worst stereotypes of the equally loony extreme conservatives. The language of gender studies groups and ‘social justice’ (I use scare quotes because I don’t think it qualifies) is very specialised and just like a lot of atheist/skeptic/philosophy terms isn’t known to outsiders. Unlike atheism Vs theism where we explain and link at length there seems to be a steadfast and absolute refusal to explain the specialist terminology, ideas and principles found in the ideas that they adhere to. It’s ‘not their job to educate’ and any requirement for clarification or explanation – or any objection – is likely to get you a singularly unhelpful link to ‘derailing for dummies’ or ‘finally feminism’. The second of which is only a tiny amount more helpful than the first since it doesn’t really back up what it claims, just defines it. Further, they’re cutting themselves off from the cut and thrust of debate through over-moderated fora, BlockBot etc. Creating a dangerous echo chamber.

A Gift to our Enemies

There are all sorts of damaging claims made about atheists and they’re all complete bollocks. Attempts to conflate atheism with evolution (and confusion over what evolution is), or Nazism or Communism. Claims that all atheists are ‘libtards’ or socialists (I’m a left anarchist as it happens, but there’s plenty of us that aren’t). There are constant attempts to make atheism more than what it is; the simple rejection of the claim that god/s exist. Yes, it’s true that atheists tend to be from an educated middle class, tend to be left wing and so on, but that’s by no means the whole story.

What’s the problem?: Atheismplus meets the stereotype that our enemies use against us and creates a solid bloc of social and political orthodoxy that plays into the idea that atheists are all abortion happy hippies, homosexuals, lefties etc. There’s nothing wrong with any of this of course, but diversity gives us a much stronger message. The other part of this is that Atheismplus spends all its time attacking its own people – fellow atheists – trying to act as a ‘moral majority’ and tearing down those who should be their allies. They’re far more interested – it seems – in trying to police conventions, fling around flimsy accusations, shame their fellows in the broader atheism movement and find anything and everything to cause drama about, often to the expense of the sorts of issues that should have primacy to atheists.

Monstering

A problem with the internet in general, other than vanishing down the rabbit hole of Youtube or Wikipedia, is that anything and everything you say can be cherrypicked and lives forever. Lose your temper? Misspell something? Poorly judge your words in a throwaway tweet? You’re fucked. It is incredibly easy to make you look bad or to come back months or years later, dig up one ill-timed or phrased comment and use it to fuck you over. Social media especially combines the immediacy of conversation with the permanency of writing. The practical upshot of all this is that it is very, very easy to make people look bad or take their comments the wrong way, deliberately or not.

What’s the Problem?: It is very, very, very easy to make spurious accusations online and they proliferate far faster than the truth. A reputation can be deep-sixed in hours and can’t be fully rebuilt – if at all – for years. The veracity of the accusations has nothing to do with it and Chinese whispers (or Telephone if you think of that as racially insensitive) can turn even a fairly innocuous slander into something far worse in short order. Atheismplus are rather free with their accusations and finger pointing. Accusations of rape and sexual misconduct directed at various prominent figures without anything to back them up are perhaps the most egregious example – especially lately – but accusations of ‘rape apologism’ are also common, thoroughly insulting and any defence or anger towards the claim is taken as support for it! Bonkers! No minds are being changed, people are just being pissed off and set against Atheismplus as a whole.

Crying Wolf

In an ideal world, especially with us all being atheists and skeptics, each and every claim should be taken independently and assessed on its evidence. This is one of the few areas where historical methodology differs from scientific methodology in that in history you are always mindful of considering the source. While this does come in with today’s atmosphere of corporate sponsored studies with predetermined findings it’s much more of a social and historical issues. Still, things aren’t ideal or perfect and people’s individual and group reputations do come into it.

What’s the Problem?: ‘Elevatorgate’ was the incident that kicked everything off, that led to Atheismplus and everything else that’s happened. This is amazing given that it was an ‘incident’ in which absolutely nothing meaningful or concerning happened. Things haven’t really improved much since then. The insult a certain fragment of the community took at the arched eyebrows and ‘Really?’ comments from the larger body of atheism seems to have fed on itself more and more and the idea that Elevatorgate was a problem has been added to with any number of other ‘incidents’ that are considered equally inconsequential by the larger group. Atheismplus and its allies have cried wolf about minor issues so often that it has become incredibly difficult to take any of their drama seriously or even to believe many of their claims. The accusations against Shermer would – in normal circumstances – deserve to be taken seriously (and taken through the proper authorities). In the climate Atheismplus has created there is an established reason to be skeptical.

Hypocrisy

There’s a line (or rather, a section) in Diamond Age about how hypocrisy isn’t the big sin it’s made out to be. For a person to be a hypocrite they must be at least trying to do the right thing, it’s just that they’ve failed in some way. Nonetheless, if hypocritical behaviour becomes common enough I think it is valid to point out the hypocrisy.

What’s the Problem?: For a group whose (vaguely) stated goals include tolerance, safety and inclusion of women and minorities in atheism Atheismplus is a total failure. Attempts to interfere with harassment policies and promoting the (unevidenced) idea that atheist meetings are hotbeds of sexual exploitation have slashed female attendance at events like TAM which were practically on 50/50 parity. Rather than trying to invest in the future of the movement or seek the best and most effective speakers there’s an insistence on the basis of gender rather than expertise. Not that there aren’t good speakers of all genders but when you pass over expert male speakers to include sub-par ones with axes to grind rather than progress to make that’s an issue. There’s also something peculiar in claiming to be atheists and skeptics while suspending skepticism when it comes to certain claims – like the highly questionable 1-in-4 rape statistic or broader concepts like patriarchy and rape culture. Skepticism or demands for evidence in these arenas is treated as hostility. Base hypocrisy.

The Issue With BlockBot

On the face of it something like the BlockBot on Twitter seems like a good idea. A combined list of trolls and abusers that you can sign up to to autoblock them. This should work like Adblock or anti-spam software and should make Twitter a better experience for everyone. Unfortunately, it’s under the control of Atheismplus and, thus, takes a role that is much more like an electronic commissar than a tool to improve your internet experience.

What’s the problem?: There seems to be some confusion on Atheismplus’ part as to why BlockBot pisses people off so much or is attacked as a constriction on free speech. The more advanced levels, the abusers, spammers, doxxers (though that’s a bit subjective these days) aren’t the problem. It’s the lower level. Having your unsubstantiated beliefs challenged or mocked can be annoying, but it’s no less valid for that. It’s this level that turns BlockBot from a potentially useful internet tool to an ideological enforcer, shielding Atheismplus ideologiues from criticism. Even worse, those who sign up to it are never going to have the opportunity to make up their own minds about it. An additional problem was (may still be) the spam reporting aspect, which would feed into an algorithm to suspend accounts, which absolutely and unquestionably was/is an attempt to constrict free expression and one that obnoxious theists (Sacerdotus for example) have engaged in. It also has the eternal problem that bedevils any attempt to enforce rules on the internet, at least some of the moderators are fucking arseholes who shouldn’t be trusted to boil water, let alone run this.

Is there Room for Discussion?

The best thing for all considered may be for Atheismplus to just bugger off, go its own way and to stop messing around with the broader atheist community. Get their own conventions, have their own areas, be left completely alone and leave everyone else alone. This seems unlikely to happen though and does run the risk of leaving Atheismplus to become an even deeper and more extreme echo chamber than it already is. Something we all, as atheists, should be very alert and aware to – the danger of cults and the kind of extremism that emerges in echo chambers.

For a group so dead set against abuse, Atheismplus is remarkably abusive, dropping accusations of rape apologism and some form of sexism, racism or other – even to the point of tiptoeing around criticising Islam or at least giving Dawkins an earful over criticising it. They are willing to dish it out but can’t take even the mildest form of criticism. So long as this continues and so long as more reasoned critics – including myself (on a good day) have no capability to argue and discuss with them there’ll be no progress and no middle ground.

I suspect, sadly, there is no middle ground for Atheismplus and that’s the problem, they’re extremists and they’re extremists on issues that aren’t – yet – resolved via science. Attempts to reach out and find some sort of discussion, to make reasoned critique just get rebuffed. So why try?

Orthodoxy seems more important to them than truth, or progress, or skepticism, or atheism.