Monday, October 22, 2012

Chris Stedman Defends Accommodationism

Chris Stedman is currently the Assistant Humanist Chaplain1 and the Values in Action Coordinator for the Humanist Community at Harvard [Chris Stedman]. He has a Master's degree in religion and is a former evangelical Christian.

As you might imagine from his position at Harvard, Stedman supports the non-theistic Humanism "religion." His goal is to advance particular social policies and often that goal is shared by theists. Hence, cooperating with theists to achieve common goals, such as social justice, is a major part of his life.

That's noble. Even though I don't share his humanist worldview—and have no intention of becoming a humanist—I can support many of the issues he is passionate about. Like all my atheist friends, I have no problem working with theists of all stripes when it comes to making our society a better place—just as I have no problem working with conservatives, homeopaths, anti-abortionists, people who favor capital punishment, pro-gun lobbyists, and even misogynists and racists if the issue is important enough.

The point is that people differ on all kinds of issues but that doesn't prevent them from forming alliances and getting along. My theist friends don't agree with my stance on the existence of god(s) but most of them tolerate my position even though they will argue passionately against it when we debate. Similarly, I think they're dead wrong about the existence of god(s) but that doesn't mean we can't work together to support the same political candidate.

Chris Steadman is one of those accommodationists who simply can't tell the difference between the battle of rationalism (my version) vs superstition (theism) and whether people can get along at a one-on-one level. His main thesis isn't that theists will be upset by criticism, instead it's more subtle than that. He thinks it's the atheists who are being intolerant while the theists can handle criticism!

Stedman has written a book but I haven't read it. However, I have read an excerpt on Salon: Toxic atheism drives people apart. As you can tell from the title, this is another attack on "New Atheists" from a "faithest." (He uses the word "faithest" as a synonym for "accommodationist.")

Here's what Stedman says,
I'm not a believer any longer, but I do believe in respect. The "New Atheism" of Dawkins and Harris is simply toxic.
I'm getting awfully sick of this nonsense. What he really means is that it's okay to passionately disagree about all kinds of social and political issues (gun control, socialism, capital punishment, quackery, political parties, abortion) but if atheists challenge the existence of god(s) that's a whole different kettle of fish. Somehow, it's "disrepectful" to declare that belief in supernatural beings is wrong and it means that intolerant atheists can't, and won't, work with anyone who disagrees with them because their position is "toxic."

Chris Stedman says ...
Sitting in class the day after my botched attempt at seeking secular community, I realized that I felt more at home with my religious colleagues than with the atheists from the day before. I looked around the room, focusing on each individual face; here were people who believed in a God I had theorized away years ago, yet they felt more like kin than most atheists I knew. While my classmates felt that their religious beliefs were right, they not only tolerated my beliefs but also enthusiastically embraced and challenged them.
He's talking about students at a seminary studying for a master's degree in religion. If Chris Stedman can argue vehemently with his Christian friends about the existence of god(s) and still respect them, then why can't New Atheists do the same? Is it because the New Atheists make a stronger, better, more threatening, case than he does when debating with his friends and this shows intolerance and lack of respect on the part of New Atheists? I suspect that's the case. I suspect that his real beef with the New Atheists is that they are better at defending atheism that he is and this comes across as more disrespectful than he's prepared to be.

Later on, Stedman says ....
With divisive religious fundamentalism on the rise, reactionary atheism that fixates on making antireligious proclamations is creating even more division. I believe that this so-called New Atheism — the kind that singles out the religious lives of others as its No. 1 target — is toxic, misdirected, and wasteful. Disengaged or antagonistic atheism weakens our community’s claim that an ethical life is possible without a belief in God, supplanting this with an alienating narrative that both distracts us from investing in community-building efforts of our own and prevents us from accomplishing anything outside of our small community. In addition, this militant, uncompromising antitheism inhibits people who do not believe in God from ever moving beyond articulating how they differ from the religious into the kinds of efforts that engender community building within and cooperation without. I do not believe it represents most atheists, but this perspective is currently the loudest and most visible one, speaking on behalf of atheists to the wider world and dictating the direction of the organized atheist community.
First, let me correct a common misconception among accommodationists. While it's true that some so-called "New Atheists" are very anti-religion, it's not true of all New Atheists. I, for one, am very much opposed to the superstitious belief in imaginary god(s) but I don't waste much time distinguishing between the several thousand different religions and which one(s) are more evil. They are all based on a myth and that's the main point. I am anti-theism and that's not quite the same as being anti-Christian, or anti-Muslim, or anti-Hinduism, or anti-Mormon2, or anti-Judaism.

Second, let's look at what Stedman is saying about the New Atheist side of the debate. He's saying that attacks on the evils of some religions (e.g. Christian fundamentalism, Islamic extremism) are "toxic, misdirected and wasteful." Atheist who engage in such attacks are behaving unethically, calling into question the idea that you can be good without god. He's saying that because some New Atheists point out the evils of some religions, this contaminates the entire New Atheist movement by making atheists intolerant. Because they highlight the worst examples of religious bigotry and hypocrisy—such as shooting 14 year-old girls, or murdering doctors who perform abortions, or abusing young altar boys—this means they can't work with their religious neighbors because they treat all theists the same.

There's no evidence to support such a ridiculous hypothesis and plenty of evidence that the most vocal New Atheists get along just fine with their religious friends. They may not be touchy-feely humanists who go around hugging Christian fundamentalists, but that's an entirely different question.


1. Why does a university need a "humanist chaplain"?

2. PZ Myers has a nice post opposing the anti-Mormonism of Richard Dawkins [Bad argument #1: The Mormon exception]

104 comments :

  1. You don't consider yourself a humanist? Why not? You do seem to care about societal issues - for instance, I know you care about education, and I imagine you also care about social justice. And you take a rational, secular approach to these issues. Doesn't that make you a humanist?

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    1. I certainly think so, I'd like to hear what he thinks humanist means. Perhaps his view is colored by all the religious garbage he's forcing himself to read and thinks it's some new age religion type thing.

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    2. My understanding is that it's an old term that has had many different meanings, some more specific than others. In my opinion, if you care about other people in this world and not about a made-up afterlife, then you're a humanist (although, to be sure, I wouldn't use that term for "spiritualists" or the like - only care for mundane, corporeal humans counts).

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    3. The word "humanism" has many meanings. It's because the word means different things to different people that I hesitate to identify with humanism.

      However, when capitalized (Humanism) or used with secular (Secular Humanism) the term is most often associated with the modern humanist movement characterized by Humanist Manifestos issued several times over the past 80 years.

      The latest version in the Amsterdam Declaration from 2002. Although the latest version is less libertarian than earlier versions it still differs from my personal philosophy in its emphasis on personal liberty as opposed to collective liberties (socialism). ("It affirms the worth, dignity and autonomy of the individual and the right of every human being to the greatest possible freedom compatible with the rights of others.")

      Humanists are supposed to support "democracy" but I'm not sure what they mean by that. It seems to me that some situations require nondemocratic solutions and even though these situations might be rare I don't foreclose the possibility. I don't think America is a real democracy but I suspect most Humanists will disagree.

      The Humanist position does not distinguish between science and technology and the current manifesto warns that "science" must be "tempered by human values." (Whatever that means?) I have a very different view of the scientific way of knowing. It doesn't require being tempered by human values. In fact, inserting "human values" into science is exactly the opposite of what I support.

      On the other hand, the current manifesto says that Humanists must value art ("literature, music, and the visual and performing arts") but says nothing about whether art can also used for harm.

      Finally, the current leaders of the modern humanist movement, including the late Paul Kurtz, are into all sorts of wishy-washy accommodationism in order to promote getting along with everyone. They also like the touchy-feely "love thy neighbor" kind of approach. I've even been to a humanist talk (by Paul Kurtz) where everyone was asked to stand up and hug the person beside them. Some of these things seem a lot like "new age religion" to me and I don't want to be part of it.

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    4. That makes a lot of sense. Thanks.

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    5. Aaaaaand that's why i love this blog. Thanks, great answer.

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    6. Blah Blah.... What is the one thing that evil has in common, regardless of its flavor? Humans, we are the problem not religion not atheism but people.... What I would still like to know is why you believe you've become more powerful than NS by having "broken free" from it... its rather funny really.... and Larry when you speak of rationality, you're really borrowing it from the Bible since its a Christian virtue, look it up.... bunch of molecules and atoms in your world is incapable of reason because how would you even know what it is unless there is an objective standard for reason.

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    7. Anonymous says,

      .... and Larry when you speak of rationality, you're really borrowing it from the Bible since its a Christian virtue ...

      Are you really trying to tell me that the Bible is rational? What planet do you live on?

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    8. So... humans are at the root of hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis?

      Anonymous Jr., you are a very insane and delusional person.

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    9. Re Larry Moran

      The USA is, indeed not a democracy. It is a democratic republic/representative democracy, just like Canada and Great Britain.

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    10. Agreed that the quality of the comments and dialog here is as much of a reason why I like the blog as the blogging. Most blogs' comments are just full of trolls.

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    11. Well without earthquakes and tsunamis there would not be anybody alive on the planet to even think about there is no god.... think about it.... also natural evil is not the same as moral evil... one is the setting to allow free will the other is the ability to exercise it. Such a pity that when people blame God for evil, they really are ranting about the fact that they have free will.

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    12. "Well without earthquakes and tsunamis there would not be anybody alive on the planet"

      Anonymous, Are you really saying that your omnipotent God could not have designed a habitat for humanity without those features?

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    13. SLC says,

      The USA is, indeed not a democracy. It is a democratic republic/representative democracy, just like Canada and Great Britain.

      Let's not quibble. You know what Americans mean when they say they stand for "democracy" in other countries. They think they have one in their own country.

      However, countries like Canada and Great Britain don't put up roadblocks to limit the number of political parties and the members of the executive are elected MPs. They also don't have a system where the ability to get elected—and stay elected—depends on how much money you raise/extort. They've also gotten rid of the kind of system that allows the citizens of one state (Ohio, Florida) to determine who's going to be the leader of the country.

      Countries like Canada and Great Britain didn't create a system of "checks and balances" that ensures that nothing will get done unless the Senate and the House can agree and the President is willing to sign the legislation.

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    14. David ask yourself... Can a sentient being have free will in a perfect world?

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    15. Re Larry Moran

      The US also doesn't have a state secrets act like Great Britain. Exposes like Watergate can't happen in Great Britain because the Government, by declaring a particular story falls under the state secrets act, can prevent its publication. The Profumo scandal is a perfect example where the British Government prevented publication of numerous details that would have implicated many besides Profumo.

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    16. @SLC,

      Oh well! I guess that settles it then.

      The United States government would never try to prevent publication of state secrets but Great Britain would. That means that the United States is more democratic than Great Britain. Right?

      Why do you think the detainees at Guantanamo Bay are being tried in military court and not in civilian court and why are their lawyers not being given full access to all the evidence against them?

      P.S. The Profumo Scandal was in 1963. Before you go pointing fingers at Great Britain, think about what was happening in the USA at that time, especially in southern states like Mississippi and Alabama. Same with Watergate. Instead on praising the exposé, think about why it was necessary to force the resignation of the President of the United States in the first place. (And the Vice President a year earlier.) Was it because the USA was much more democratic than other countries?

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    17. Re Larry Moran

      The US Government tried to prevent publication of the Pentagon Papers but was rebuffed by the Supreme Court which ruled that prior restraint violated the 1st Amendment. Nobody in Great Britain even tried to get to the bottom of the Profumo affair. I believe in Britain, it's called a Q notice. It is my information that a number of scandals involving high government officials in Britain only became public long after they occurred due to the Q notice invoking prior restraint (e.g. the bugging of former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson by MI6).

      By the way, I never claimed that the US was more democratic then Canada or Great Britain, just that it may be described as a Representative Democracy, just like Canada and Great Britain. I don't think anyone would seriously argue that newspapers are freer in Britain then in the US. I can't speak about the situation in Canada on which I have no information.

      I think that Prof. Moran raises a good point about the system in Canada and Great Britain relative to 3rd parties. However, there can be too much of a good thing, e.g. Italy and Israel which are almost ungovernable due to having too many parties.

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    18. Anon- we know what morality is because we've got a sense of empathy and we've spend quite a number of generations working out how humans should interact with other humans. This isn't objective but if you've got any kind of contact with the rest of the world you're in it with the rest of us.

      The general direction we've gone with this is fairly easy to see if you imagine that you're setting up a society but you're going to join, but you don't get to pick what role you have. Slaves and slave masters? Well you'd suffer tremendously if you were a slave so this system is at best a nasty gamble. Women completely subordinate to men? Another nasty gamble is you end up stuck around stupid or malicious men as a woman, but even if you have the luck of running into a man that makes decisions the same way you would you still don't get to make those decisions for yourself.

      No, when you're faced with the possibility of assigning yourself to the most disadvantaged role your safest bet is to set up the roles as evenly as possible. It's very easy to not think through things like this, and fight tooth and nail for the greatest benefits for yourself at the expense of others- but over the centuries we've found that these systems end up being quite restrictive to the advantaged classes as well- we humans don't really have the foresight to catch these cases where we're forcing ourselves into roles we don't necessarily fit. An extreme example would be dictators with absolute power over how their country is run; people who can decree a law one day and then retract it immediately if it gets in their way. When a group of people are no longer content with such a ruler there is no way to negotiate with them- they're not stupid enough to accept promises from a one man government that can just break them as soon as they become a barrier to some other goal. This kind of unchecked power leads to only one way of handling dissenters- by getting rid of them before they can become an actual threat. To maintain such power there is often no choice but genocide, regardless of how unappealing that option may be.

      But besides that morality that comes from "God" isn't objective either. You may think that God's subjective preferences override those of all humans but that doesn't magically make it objective. To be objective it has to not come from a subject, but by definition any kind of personal god would not be an objective source of anything.

      If you use the word universal you get much closer to what you actually want to argue for, but also have much less room to misdirect critics. It becomes very obvious that there isn't any source of morality external to humans but rather that we've dialed in to the general notion that we want to minimize unnecessary suffering.

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  2. LM writes, 'Because they highlight the worst examples of religious bigotry and hypocrisy—such as shooting 14 year-old girls, or murdering doctors who perform abortions, or abusing young alter boys—this means they can't work with their religious neighbors because they treat all theists the same.'

    Wow, that really IS, as you say, a 'ridiculous hypothesis'!
    Whose is it?

    LM writes, 'Stedman has written a book but I haven't read it.'

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    1. ah, yes. LM DID read the article in Salon, though. I wonder how carefully?

      Seems to have missed

      'I was not naïve then, nor am I now, to the atrocities committed in the name of religion around the world. I do not pretend that religion has not played a sizable role in a great many conflicts since people first began to conceive of it, or that it does not do so today. Historically, religion has been at the center of many atrocities — this is an undeniable, important fact.'
      and
      'The problems of religious fundamentalism are apparent, and have already been responded to by many individuals far more qualified to do so than I'
      as well as
      'Although I believe that many New Atheist critiques of religion are correct and have helped many people find liberation from oppressive beliefs, ...'

      So I'm still at a loss to figure out just WHO holds the 'ridiculous hypothesis' Larry characterized above, and why on earth he chose to bring it up in a post on Chris Stedman?

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    2. And yet he still goes on to level the baseless attacks against atheists for which he is so well known, as Larry showed above. All that these quotes you provide from Stedman show is that he's fully aware that what he's peddling is bullshit.

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    3. Eric, please define what you mean by 'baseless attacks against atheists', and if possible cite one from the article. And if not from the article, since according to you he's well known for these, than from someplace else.

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    4. He calls the New Atheists toxic. It seems fairly clear that he means because we criticize religion for these atrocities as well as the tacit approval less insane believers grant them.

      The question "does believing in false things lead to stupid and harmful decisions?" isn't something we get much opportunity to ask, given all of the faith healing deaths and anti-education news that demands our attention, but even if it were it would be difficult to refer to it as toxic.

      But if you've got a better idea of what he's refering to then by all means tell us.

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    5. Shoku writes, 'But if you've got a better idea of what he's refering to then by all means tell us.'

      In fact, I don't, which is why I asked. Let me go through the article and find the most damning things he writes, and please feel free to add to these if you would like. The first, of course, is that designation, 'toxic'.
      After that we have
      'I fear that some atheists are doing what I used to do in my antireligious days: engaging in monologue instead of dialogue. ' I agree with this. This has been my own observation about SOME atheists.

      '...thinking narrowly about the texts, not about some of their positive applications; of the one-sided stereotypes, not the diverse spectrum of beliefs and practices.' Again, complete agreement. You will note that twt, steve, and you in your recent reply, cull some of your condemnation from the violent/misognyistic wordings of the texts in question, which is not, I feel, the best way to examine religious faith in practice. People DO tend to 'cherry pick' the portions of their sacred texts that most speak to them, and it is a moot question as to whether or not they should. Nearly every person who lives religiously interprets religion. Harriet Tubman, Gandhi, MLK, Desmond Tutu, Jackie Robinson, the Quakers who were involved in the Underground Railroad, the Sufis, Basho, Rumi, etc. etc.; right alongside Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 hijakers and their instructors and instigators. So basing condemnation on the texts is shallow and hollow.

      'the “New Atheist” brand of secularism isn’t helping. ' needless to say I agree.

      'reactionary atheism that fixates on making antireligious proclamations is creating even more division. I believe that this so-called New Atheism — the kind that singles out the religious lives of others as its No. 1 target — is toxic, misdirected, and wasteful.' I agree, and feel that he makes this case with his story. Remember, he is not making 'baseless accusations', he is expressing an opinion. And he is telling us why he holds this opinion.

      ' In addition, this militant, uncompromising antitheism inhibits people who do not believe in God from ever moving beyond articulating how they differ from the religious into the kinds of efforts that engender community building within and cooperation without' ; again, I agree, and I think that twt and steve embody this. Had I not visited this very site, I would perhaps be less inclined to agree with him.

      ' I do not believe it represents most atheists, but this perspective is currently the loudest and most visible one, speaking on behalf of atheists to the wider world and dictating the direction of the organized atheist community.'; cited because the first eight words are very important, I feel. He is NOT making a blanket condemnation of atheists or atheism. He himself is one.

      I may have missed something, but I have made my citations in good faith. You, Shoku, seem like someone with whom it is possible to reason with and discuss things in a respectful manner. So if you do find far more damning passages to cite, I will only ask that you cite them, and not accuse me of 'blatant lies', 'asinine games'. Simply point them out, and I will acknowledge them with apologies for my lack of thoroughness.

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    6. "So basing condemnation on the texts is shallow and hollow."
      Not exactly. There is the issue about whether these texts are divinely inspired or not. For that portion of believers who would say yes all of these criticisms of the text alone bear their full weight. For those who say who say no or maybe then criticism of the texts comes with the implication that we're asking why keep the text at all?
      Lacking the component of divinity these criticisms become a serious argument for at least rewriting the books to do away with the barbaric mentality of the writers from far ancient eras.

      The historical texts could be preserved but in that case they are clearly not the best guides for living, and only those interested in the history should go back to the originals.

      "I believe that this so-called New Atheism — the kind that singles out the religious lives of others as its No. 1 target"
      Religious lives? Nonsense! You yourself were just saying that we focus too much on the text that is irrelevant to the way religions are actually practiced!

      "In addition, this militant, uncompromising antitheism"
      Referring to us as militant is rather toxic, no? It prevents us from moving beyond defending ourselves from petty attacks, don't you think? Of course I'm not going to be in a cooperative mood right after being described with language that invokes images of stabbing other people in the torso, crushing families in debris, and unquestioningly following the commands of a general.

      "He is NOT making a blanket condemnation of atheists or atheism. He himself is one." We're well aware of this. To my somewhat experienced eye he's condemning only the atheists who threaten to actually change anything. He condemns us for being vocal instead of submissive. He condemns us for taking the step that actually lead every rights movement in recent history to open the eyes of the public and make it clear to people that they did not want things to stay as they were.

      But more than anything else he condemns us for seeing through silencing tactics used against us and other groups of people that are starting to speak out.

      What we do is toxic, to bigots. Same way penicillin is toxic to various infections.

      The people you're worried about aren't so numerous as you think. We know. Many of us used to be them.
      You seem to hope that you can sneak in undetected and steal the flocks of bigots undetected, but we see that they've already sounded the alarm.

      "You, Shoku, seem like someone with whom it is possible to reason with and discuss things in a respectful manner."
      I'm foolishly patient. You and others routinely come into here without having read nearly so much as we have, but while expressing the entitlement that you expect us to do that homework for you and distill years into seconds for you.

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    7. There is a fairly simple way to get more people to talk in the nice fashion I do-
      *Not everyone, of course there are some people that are full of themselves or other, like the writer of this blog, will still be too busy to do the work for you.

      Turn up the humble dial. There's a big difference between "I don't see how there is a problem" and "I don't understand this problem you're talking about." The first comes with the implication that you think you see everything that is there, that any of us who see something else must be mistaken. It's not such a strong implication that you don't allow anyone to explain it to you but you go well beyond the threshold for a majority of contributors here- you don't look like you'll really listen.

      From what I've seen they're right. You read carefully enough to continue to argue with us but you present points that we have already addressed and importantly you don't proceed to smaller details very frequently.

      I can see right away why you would think I sound like someone that can be "reasoned with." Compared to the people here I'm an accommodationist. I treat you like a that won't be able to take in an idea if I'm mean about it.

      You may be feeling a bit of whiplash with that as it becomes evident that I don't perpetually place that thin sugar coat on everything I say but if that bothers you then it is your own fault. At this point you should know well enough how to get an argument here and how to get me to explain things in a lightly patronizing manner.

      "So if you do find far more damning passages to cite," I don't need to. Everyone else here is familiar with the language of propaganda and inept manipulation that Stedman is using.

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    8. Shoku, I am very happy to learn that you are 'patient', and let me hasten to assure you that you are no more so than I. Here is a quote. What do you make of it? Will you define it as 'toxic' or not?

      'The Intelligent Design movement is religious creationism in a poor disguise and is really just an intrusive, dishonest, religious and political agenda. The people promoting and supporting it are insane, narcissistic, hypocritical, dishonest religious-zealots who want to control the thoughts and actions of everyone on Earth.'

      These are comments by someone who frequently posts here who gets far less 'traffic' than I. In fact, I have never seen his words called out as extremist and unhelpful. Nor have I seen anyone defend them, when I have posted them in the past. People just simply ignore them. Whereas nearly everything I post here is vehemently argued against. How about you? When you read the above words, do you think you are reading a realistic perspective on the so-called opposition? If not, how would you describe it?

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    9. "Shoku, I am very happy to learn that you are 'patient', and let me hasten to assure you that you are no more so than I." There you go devaluing yet another new atheist >:(
      I kid but seriously if you are more patient than me you've got some kind of mental defect. In my early twenties I started just simulating impatient behavior to stop being so alien to people.

      So for your quote, if I was attached to intelligent design I would be a bit miffed. Luckily for me I have both a fair grasp of reality and I've read transcripts of the Kitmiller trial. This quote is toxic, but only in the sense that truth is toxic to lies and the followers thereof.

      There is an important distinction between the circumstances of that quote and the Stedman situation though- this blog caters to a college educated biochemistry crowd and isn't anything I would dare try to pass off as community outreach. Stedman wrote a book to vilify vocal atheists. Big difference between outreach publications and blog comments right?

      So given the audience here you've got a big swath of regulars who, so far as I can tell, are even more familiar with the Dover v Kitsmiller trial than I am, and you have people that pop up to defend themselves and their beliefs by attacking us and denying facts.

      Ok, that's to much "our" language (haha, as if-) but I think I can say it in a way you'll be more receptive to:
      Picture a college graduate in a postgrad program. What kind of criticism should they face for denying the details of the kitsmiller trial among peers who have all read it? Early on? just some mocking so long as they showed signs of preparing to explain themselves. This many years after that's all been done? People ought to be a whole lot harsher with you than anything on this blog.

      So why didn't I frame it that way at first?
      Specifically because of the different consequences for this group of people that should know better. The academic lot are expected to actually know public information and to be experts. Intelligent design is one of many ideas that can't survive among experts. If you step into such a group and have a reaction like the quote you got you can double down on being ignorant of the subject or you can recognize that you should probably try and do some catch up to avoid embarrassing again.

      If everyone is completely nice about you not knowing what you're talking about then you have something very different develop- the notion that these are fairly equal stances and you're about as justified in choosing either one. That absolutely is not the case with intelligent design, and that is precisely why it can't survive in an environment like this.

      It should be humiliating to not know about the court case that revealed intelligent design to be the product of a creation science think tank so soon after they started trying to spread it around. It shouldn't be good enough for you to have heard about it once then just gone with a very vague set of memories about what some other person told you. You should have to actually look these things up before you push them in public.

      But if we keep this kind of criticism away from the public then it will always be fine to advertise these things that you know nothing about and there will be no reason to uncover what the facts actually are.

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    10. Shoku, I see the very distinct possibility that we are talking past each other, but there are some points that I think can be made from the mutual understanding that we have so far established.
      First, please note that I did not suggest that I am more patient than you. I wrote, 'no more so than I'. I realize you were joking, but at least let's establish the meaning of the words you joked about.
      Secondly, as to the quote that I referred you to, and your reply: 'This quote is toxic, but only in the sense that truth is toxic to lies and the followers thereof.'
      With this, assuming that your meaning here is very clear, let me say how strongly I disagree with it. As to the first sentence in the quote, you may be on somewhat solid ground. The second sentence is the language of demonization, and I am surprised you don't see it that way. First, note that no qualifying language is used. We may therefore assume that the author is making a sweeping, blanket assertion. And WHAT an assertion! The language of demonization should ALWAYS throw up a red flag to thoughtful people, because when one has become so full of hatred that one no longer sees ones opponents as human beings, then you and I both know what may result. So, if you see the second statement as just a rather strongly worded truth of the 'that hurts' variety, then I won't go that way with you.

      Which leads to the area where I feel that we are, assuredly, talking past each other. It returns us to your defense, such as it was, of Hitchens' choice of title for his book. I don't know if every word in his book is true, or not. As I wrote earlier, I am not all that interested in the Mother Theresa story. What I am interested in is language, and communication. How language is used to show respect, or to show contempt. Hitchens' contempt for MT is not so much the issue with me. His contempt was also toward those he knew he would offend by making a silly sexual joke about a nun. In other words, nearly all devout Catholics. He was like Johnny Rotten singing the queen ain't a human being, or the Clash singing, 'he who f&^s nuns, will later join the church!"
      They are punk rockers. They are SUPPOSED to sing stuff like that! That's not how serious journalists who are (or should be) more interested in getting the truth out than in shocking and sticking it to people should be behaving.

      Delete
    11. Yes, you set the bounds such that you are equal to or greater than me in terms of patience. But you saw what I was doing so no biggie.

      For the second sentence there is the question of what that poster considers support to be. Funding and fighting legal battles? Then he hit the nail on the head. Bring up word of mouth as a supportive action and they'd have to add a caveat for people who don't really know about things like the Kitzmiller trial, or at least dispute that as undeserving of the title "support."

      However the language in that portion was the first reason I drew the distinction between publishing a book and placing a comment on a blog. It is the difference between carrying a sign while talking to passing crowds and talking to someone else in their living room. There's just an entirely different sort of being careful to say only exactly what you mean (or be intentionally vague, but let's ignore that component.)


      I thought your concern here was on how effective these things are. Are you dropping the argument that upsetting people prevents them from seeing obvious truths, and instead going with "it's just not professional"? If so I would think your time in the comments here would show you that Stedman hasn't been very professional about this, that he shouldn't be trying to stick it to the new Atheists.

      Delete
    12. Shoku asks, 'Are you dropping the argument that upsetting people prevents them from seeing obvious truths, and instead going with "it's just not professional"

      Precisely where did I make that argument in the first place? And no, 'it's just not professional' is not what I am saying. That is just an inference on your part based on this statement, ' That's not how serious journalists who are (or should be) more interested in getting the truth out than in shocking and sticking it to people should be behaving.' Granted, I Do believe it is unprofessional of a 'serious journal' to not be able to constrain himself from a high school prank-type move. But I believe the title is worse than merely unprofessional; it is contemptuous and designed to outrage. The audience for punk rock music is disaffected youth, so the lyrics I cited above were simply delivering the goods to the customer. Are you suggesting the envisioned readers of Hitchens' book about MT were exclusively pissed off atheists who wanted to see crazy religious believers get a smack in the face? If so, I suppose I can agree with you that he succeeded.

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    13. You're right, you've only expressed that sentiment.
      When you quoted Larry with
      "Because they highlight the worst examples of religious bigotry and hypocrisy—such as shooting 14 year-old girls, or murdering doctors who perform abortions, or abusing young alter boys—this means they can't work with their religious neighbors because they treat all theists the same."
      accepted it, and accused him of the behavior for not having read the book but rather something a bit more immediately available, you actually may not have intended to make that point.


      I suppose if you're going to focus on Hitchen's title so adamantly I should admit that I don't understand what outrage people feel when they see "The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice." A first pass over it gets you "here's what a famous worker for the church thought and tried to do" and then on a second pass "oh, that's the name of a sex position. Oh those witty Brits."

      Now, knowing if they knew the name Hitchens already then they could expect to hate his book regardless of title or content, and this title would give them an easy thing to pretend to be outraged by. At that point it doesn't need to make sense so much as it needs to be yelled repeatedly over the various media.

      But seeing as you don't care at all what's in the book I don't see how you can expect to have any competency in judging the title, and I especially don't see why you would expect any of us to treat you like you do.

      Delete
    14. Shoku, it's becoming increasingly difficult to avoid the conclusion that you are trying to 'catch me' in some bit of hypocrisy, snobbery perhaps; not really sure what actually. Which would be more acceptable, on its own terms, if it was accompanied by a sense that you really understand the words I use, why I use them, etc. You have already put the words in my mouth that I think I am 'more' patient than you, when the phrase I used was meant to convey 'at least as much'. Now you go back to my OP and misunderstand my reasons for calling LM out about his quote. My precise point was that he can't say for sure that Stedman WAS expressing such a simplistic and absurd statement, so LM was merely caricaturing his actual intents, without even reading the book or seeming not to catch some of the salient points of the article he DID read.

      Therefore, in terms of your final statement, 'and I especially don't see why you would expect any of us to treat you like you do': in fact I don't. I expect people to behave as they wish to behave, no skin off my nose. I am not afraid of verbal confrontation. My feeling is always that how one chooses to treat another person says nothing about the other person, and everything about the person who chooses to treat them that way. So 'treat' me however you choose, for your own reasons and in such ways that it reflects upon you in the way(s) you wish to consider yourself

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    15. andyboerger says,

      Now you go back to my OP and misunderstand my reasons for calling LM out about his quote. My precise point was that he can't say for sure that Stedman WAS expressing such a simplistic and absurd statement, so LM was merely caricaturing his actual intents, without even reading the book or seeming not to catch some of the salient points of the article he DID read.

      andy, andy, andy, there you go again,

      Why do you always take some minor sentence or phrase out of my post and try to turn it into a big deal? Is it because you really, really, enjoy quibbling or is it because you just can't deal with the important ideas in my posts?

      I am very confident that my sentence represents a part of what Chris Stedman believes.

      Delete
    16. Larry, I 'quibble' so often because you do what YOU do so often, which is reduce the views of those you disagree with to unflattering soundbites. Why are you confident that your sentence represents a part of what he believes? I think what you call 'confidence' can more accurately be described as taking liberties.
      I am confident Chris Stedman would think of it as a mischaracterization. Why would anyone think it wrong to criticize the egregious actions of the Taliban and abortion clinic bombers, or advise others to remain quiet about them? What sort of person would see that as unacceptable because some feelings might be hurt? I've never met anyone like that, and Stedman doesn't seem to be like that, either.

      Delete
    17. @andyboerger,

      Stedman's main point is that new atheists are anti-religion and their view are "toxic." That means that the minds of new atheists are poisoned by their constant criticism of the worst evils of religion, The consequence is that new atheists can't be "tolerant" and they can't get along with theists, even on a one-on-one basis.

      Do you think he was trying to say something different?

      Delete
    18. LM asks, "Do you think he was trying to say something different?"

      Yes, different. "Toxic" in its current (over)usage, doesn't so much mean 'poisoned', as you infer above, as it does 'poisonous' or perhaps most accurately 'poisoning'. Thus, his concern has less to do with how new atheists perceive religion as purely negative as the atmosphere they create when they, essentially, express that. Religion is a very important part of many people's lives. For some it is THE most important part of their lives. Being told that you are backwards, deluded, blind, foolish, etc., for holding views that you hold very dear is unhelpful. The writer and I agree about this. It's like screaming to a parent how ugly their child is. You're not going to make any friends that way.
      Some of the people I described above, for whom religion is the most important aspect of their lives, are insane, and very dangerous. Not all, and hardly the majority. Nevertheless, they deserve to be condemned in the harshest terms by ALL people, not just atheists. But when one lumps, as many new atheists do, all strains of religion and religious beliefs with the heinous actions of a minority, one then 'poisons' the atmosphere of discussion, renders it all but impossible, and further drives religious people away from atheism. A self fulfilling prophecy of 'they can't be reached; they're too deluded' is thus erected.

      Do you recall a little more than a decade ago when the Taliban destroyed the great Buddhist statues at Bamiyan? These had been a world heritage site up to that time. Condemnation came from all corners. Art historians, archeologists, and anyone who places value on human culture. It was hardly just atheists complaining then. Rather than new atheists thinking of them as warriors against superstition, the more important battle is between caring, sensitive, reasonable, thoughtful people against blunt, thoughtless, destructive people. Many religious people can be found amidst the former, but they are not going to be so enthusiastic about fighting this battle alongside people who think they are stupid and deluded, and associate them with the enemy.

      Delete
    19. You're right to think that I'm trying to catch you, but only because you've avoided a response to that so thoroughly.
      *It occurs to me that there's a lot of room for you to misunderstand this so: I'm saying that I'm being persistent. This is a fairly important point in my original response so I can't abide you dodging it.

      Larry specifically tells us about this Salon article from the guy that he has read, quotes important sections of it for those of us that don't feel like following the link, and talks about what is in the article. Anyone reading over your post should be able to see that your complaint that "he hasn't read the book" has very little (I'm too generous,) to do with discussing an article that he has read. I don't see how there could be any reasonable interpretation here other than that you think it impossible to be familiar with what Stedman is talking about, in this very public article, without having read his latest publication.

      This sort of thing could be possible with certain book topics, but in this case the article reveals only the kind of classic accommodationist rhetoric that we've heard a dozen times over. This isn't one man having come up with the idea that "you attract more flies with honey" on his own, he's yet another "I prefer to be nice to people" voice in a sea of them, and he makes the same mistake so many nice people do: he thinks that being spineless is a virtue, and that he should try and push more people to be that way.

      -

      The patience thing was a joke and I thought you'd enjoy some semantics on the side but since you've indicated that you're not enjoying it I will gracefully drop this.

      -

      I too am sure that he would view this as a mischaracterization, not because the meaning has any essential difference from what he is promoting, but because the connotation is very negative and much too rough for his liking.

      Now, that list of your examples seems to indicate a great deal of confusion on your part about the kinds of things the new atheists actually say. Those are exactly the things Dawkins and other talk about. Had you included priests molesting children you'd have had the full list of frontal assault terms we 'militant' atheists present when explaining the harm in religion. There are lots of other more nuanced examples that we use to flank, seize the high ground, and cut off supply lines, but those arguments are not ones we frequently see mischaracterized, or really mentioned at all, except implicitly when there is mention of how we oppose religion in general. If the complaint is indeed that we are so forceful that we cause people to shut down and retreat into their shells, then this is exactly what Stedman is objecting to. These are exactly what accomodationists always leap on when they start talking about the New Atheists.

      Is it that you don't pay any attention to what these people write or is it that you just stop at the titles?

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    20. Shoku, I am not 'avoiding' anything. Read this sentence again, please:

      "Because they highlight the worst examples of religious bigotry and hypocrisy—such as shooting 14 year-old girls, or murdering doctors who perform abortions, or abusing young altar boys—this means they can't work with their religious neighbors because they treat all theists the same."

      This line is nonsense. Particularly the last seven words. I don't have to read Stedman's book to know that he is NOT saying that. And Larry has to have MISread the article in order to think that he IS saying that. For a further demonstration, please look at the quotes I lifted from the article directly below my OP. Larry is engaging in reductio ad absurdum.

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    21. No, I'm afraid this really is what Stedman is saying. This isn't something that appeared overnight forcing folks like Larry to go in blind. The new atheists are fairly well known for telling moderate Christians and others that their public belief contributes to these terrible examples. That the widespread idea that in the past there have been people with a god whispering into their ear (or otherwise communicating while they were alone,) greatly magnifies the lunatics that murder children because God said to, that the widely accepted notion that we have a higher duty to such a being than to each other greatly magnifies strife in the world.

      You seem to be in the dark about what the new atheists say and the common criticisms they receive for it. Stick around and you'll see far less sane complaints levied at the new atheists.

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    22. No, Shoku, that is not what he is saying. Because that would be a non sequitur. If everyone who condemns "the worst examples of religious bigotry and hypocrisy—such as shooting 14 year-old girls, or murdering doctors who perform abortions, or abusing young altar boys"
      ...." can't work with their religious neighbors because they treat all theists the same"

      then,

      it follows that theists can't work with THEMSELVES and treat themselves the same, which makes no sense whatsoever. It is hardly only atheists who condemn, and vociferously, the actions Larry mentions above. I assume you are aware of this.

      LM's words are, as I stated previously, an example of reductio ad absurdum.

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    23. You're really losing my respect here. Do you think I'm going to so easily forget what Larry was talking about? Do you think that when you butcher quotes from just up the page that I'm not going to scroll up and check the exact wording?

      The problem to Stedman is not that we think the worst things are bad, it's that we talk about them in public and show that these aren't things that would have happened without the religion having told the people involved that this is really the most sensible course of action.

      The problem with the new atheists is that we recognize, and refuse to ignore, the fact that telling a population that tribal morality handbooks are 'the inerrant word of almighty God' is going to lead to some of them actually taking that at face value. We make the intolerant claim that telling people these books are the sole source of all human morality is going to produce a lot of people that shut out their better sense about what's right and wrong, that they won't filter it through modern society into something innocuous like you (hopefully) have.

      Be very careful about your next post. You haven't really demonstrated any increased comprehension of what I'm talking about so I'm right on the verge of discontinuing this. You don't need to assert that Stedman is better than the portrayal of him here, I fully grasp you thinking that, but you do need to at the very least show that you can tell what case I am making, that you can paraphrase it.

      Delete
    24. Shoku, I don't 'need' to do anything. The point I have made from the beginning onward concerns the tendency that LM has to overstate his case against those he disagrees with, belittle them, put words in their mouths, etc. It is his website, so he can do that if he wants, but I will voice my disapproval.

      It has been you who has attempted to hijack this thread to make YOUR point, which you no doubt share with Larry, and which does have some merit. So you don't get to draw up the rules. If you want to discontinue, discontinue. Your style, of stern lecturing and a superior tone, is frankly annoying.

      You have a point. But there are different ways to define 'toxic', and not all are as 'heroic' as you make your version out to be; i.e. irritants fighting the good fight on the behalf of Good, against backwards notions and blind followers of them. As I wrote to Larry,

      "Rather than new atheists thinking of themselves as warriors against superstition, the MORE IMPORTANT battle is between caring, sensitive, reasonable, thoughtful people against blunt, thoughtless, destructive people. Many religious people can be found amidst the former, but they are not going to be so enthusiastic about fighting this battle alongside people who think they are stupid and deluded, and associate them with the enemy."

      I am quite sure that Chris Stedman would enthusiastically agree with the above.

      Delete
  3. Rationality comes from the Bible? Where, exactly? And what about all the claims made in the Bible which rationality has shown to be false?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Also the idea of rationality as a virtue comes from the pagan Greeks. Christianity just stole it and filed the serial number off.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ...and then lost the instruction manual!

      Delete
    2. Virginity is just like rational thought. Go to church regularly and you'll lose it before age 14.

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  5. Matt
    Good luck in finding the falseness!!!

    Zarquon

    You really need to learn a bit of history..... The Greek civilization was predicted in the bible... Look it up….

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    Replies
    1. Wait, this IS satire, right? Because it's really easy to find false assertions in the Christian Bible and the earliest parts were all written during or after the rise of the 'Greek civilization'?

      Delete
    2. Man, that's a whole heap of stupid right there. Where in the bible does it predict Greek civilization? Please find me the bit where it says "Lo, the shepherds went out into their fields and founded Athens".

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    3. Where in the bible does it predict Greek civilization?

      They would've had to postdict it. The Greek civilisation began before the Bible was written.

      Delete
  6. The Greek civilization was predicted in the bible... Look it up….

    Also fusion reactors.

    ... and the third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

    (/No. Wait. Let me explain...)

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    Replies
    1. Infidel! Every True Christian knows that the bible predicted the sixth season of Buffy. Simple carpenter saves the world via his love? Hell-loooo!

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    2. Dang...

      Father, forgive me, for I have sinned against Whedon. As, apparently, I missed that season.

      Truth is, mind, I probably haven't quite read the whole bible, either...

      (/Mostly, I just go in for the smutty bits.)

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  7. abusing young alter boys

    I'm sure many religions look down on boys who've changed, just as they do those who serve at altars...

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    Replies
    1. Awesome! ... and I mean that quite literally. I'm in awe of people like you who are perfect spellers and who recognize every typo and spelling mistake on the internet.

      Thanks for the correction, although as a notoriously poor speller, I could do without the sarcasm. :-)

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    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    3. "although as a notoriously poor speller, I could do without the sarcasm."

      The above statement is a non sequitur. How does sarcasm affect poor spelling.

      Most people are not "perfect spellers"; however,some people are diligent proofreaders.

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  8. He's lying about the whole thing. He never gives any specifics about the conference. The party is pure literary invention, he's overawed by the rich people and the furniture, has holes in his socks and is called names.


    Same ol, same ol, cold, hard, stuck-up atheists vs warm, soft, humble theists.

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    Replies
    1. I agree with you that the story he begins his article with reads like exactly that, a story,and a not particularly well written one. People don't talk in the type of soundbites he uses. I suspect that he has created a composite of different people he has encountered, perhaps at one event, perhaps over time.

      I would have preferred a more honest and realistic beginning, but the attitudes he depicts; the arrogance, the prejudice, etc. are alive, well, and real. And can often be encountered on this very site.

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    2. heh. So I know he's making it up - but it still could be true if we can combine worst attributes of a dozen or so gnu atheist commenters on the Internet

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    3. bad threading - my response is to andyboerger.

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    4. boy, there's a stretch for you, right there, Deepak. I suppose if one wishes to be an ostrich and stick ones head in the sand it works, too.
      But let's think: Chris Stedman has, by his own admission, made it a personal mission to attempt to bridge misunderstandings among atheists and theists. He has even gone to the trouble of writing a book and finding a publisher (no small thing) to share his experiences and insights.
      He would, presumably, have had numerous chances to encounter real life people, and engage in real time conversations, with the type of people he describes. Magazine articles being what they are, having word limitations and such, he chose the (perhaps unwise) course of creating composites to act as mouthpieces for the variety of attitudes he has encountered in his experiences. He would hardly be the first person to have done this.

      So what do you suppose the odds are that he created a nearly completely fictional account of the event, based upon a dozen or so comments he culled from some of the more unseemly corners of the atheist blogosphere?
      Mr. Spock, what are the odds?
      Captain, I have not calculated them.

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    5. "Chris Stedman has, by his own admission, made it a personal mission to attempt to bridge misunderstandings among atheists and theists"

      His commitment to ensuring that people can honestly and fairly understand each others' positions is not exactly supported by his confecting a parody of the worst imagined attitudes of atheists in order to damn them.

      Delete
    6. @andyboerger "he chose the (perhaps unwise) course of creating composites to act as mouthpieces for the variety of attitudes he has encountered in his experiences. He would hardly be the first person to have done this."

      Yes, he'd hardly be the first. The "Tom Johnson" affair comes to mind, for instance. Your defense of Stedman's composites reminds me of the people who, after it became clear that "Tom Johnson" had made the whole thing up, argued that his story was still valid, because it COULD have been true.

      Delete
    7. well, that's fine, magicthighs. If that's how you feel, I honor that. I myself don't feel particularly okay with the tactic itself. I would have gone about it differently than he did.
      And in terms of his clunky, B movie ear for dialog, the less said the better.
      However, I am curious as to what degree you agree or disagree with the sentiments of his composites. If they WERE real people, would you disapprove of them, and/or disagree with them? In what ways?

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    8. @andyboerger
      My response is to you, not Stedman. You have concluded like everyone else that Stedman's story is a story - i.e. a bit of fiction. You then continued " but the attitudes he depicts; the arrogance, the prejudice, etc. are alive, well, and real. " [among gnus].
      Now while it is certainly true that some gnus are arrogant or prejudiced - that is a trivial observation. The same can be said of any group of people. For it to be a view worth discussing you'd have to prove that there is something about open, harsh criticism of religion that causes or gives a higher correlation to arrogance or prejudice.

      Lets also put it in a different way
      Suppose I make up a conversation with a religious person (and I, unlike Stedman, will use cited references for their quotes) which demonstrate prejudice, arrogance, violence , fundamentalism , misogyny etc. and then I will use it to sell my book about how bad religious people in general are - would you find it fair? would you find that a useful way to build "bridges" between non believers and moderates?

      Delete
    9. Deepak, your highlighting of 'in general' is exactly the point. Stedman is NOT selling a book about how bad atheists are in general. He himself is an atheist. He is attacking certain specific viewpoints and attitudes within a sector of vocal atheism on the grounds that it renders dialog and mutual understanding nearly impossible. In this article, his frustration with such kinds of attitudes is apparent. He is not attacking atheists, or atheism.

      Delete
    10. Stedman is NOT selling a book about how bad atheists are in general.
      Split hairs if you want - but Stedmans overall theme is how nasty/prejudiced/arrogant gnu atheists are.
      "The "New Atheism" of Dawkins and Harris is simply toxic."
      That's a generic condemnation of "new atheists" and "new atheism".

      Delete
    11. So he composites the worst traits of new atheists, and then contrasts it with a composite of the friendliest theists... how can you not see the manipulation there? If I made a compilation of the worst theist attitudes I had seen (say, pro-genocide,) and then contrasted it with the most close knit new atheist behaviors (laughter and merriment after a few drinks) without indicating that I was skewing things at all, as if to pass this off for what it's like out in public among these people... wouldn't you just be disgusted at the underhanded way I had vilified run of the mill believers?
      Wouldn't you think it was toxic and would prevent believers from being able to work with and understand me?

      Delete
    12. Shoku, I will happily agree with you and concede all your points, to the extent that you will willingly reaffirm your stated view that what he composites are the 'worst traits of new atheists'. If we can agree on that, we have clearly gotten someplace. There are people here who find nothing to complain about in terms of the sentiments he uses his mouthpieces to express, rather they object to the fact that he uses mouthpieces.
      Again, they are:

      '... we must all focus our energy on bringing about the demise of religious myths”
      or
      “We have the superior perspective; everyone else is lost,”
      or
      '(Islam) is a violent faith.' delivered sneeringly and dismissively.
      As I wrote above, if I have left something out, please direct me to it without assuming dishonesty on my part, as is the usual fare from other people who challenge me here.

      Delete
  9. how much of a parody do you really imagine it to be, dirigible? Is it wrong of him to present people who state
    '... we must all focus our energy on bringing about the demise of religious myths”
    or
    “We have the superior perspective; everyone else is lost,”
    or
    '(Islam) is a violent faith.'?

    If you feel that it is wrong, then how far out of the mainstream do you consider some of the commenters here to be? Because with a little digging I could find you similar sentiments, often delivered as sneeringly if not more.
    For that matter, how about the most designed-to-offend passages of The God Delusion? How about RD suggesting that Jesus, whom most Christians associate with tolerance (i.e. the Good Samaritan story) thought of non-Jews as 'pigs'? Or referring to religion as akin to a virus? How about ol' Saint Hitch, who just KNEW he was going to outrage people by titling his smear of Mother Theresa 'The Missionary Position'?
    All is okay unless and until anyone calls such tactics out of bounds, and then it's time to claim you're being misrepresented? You can't have your cake and eat it too. If you want to call people IDiots, heckle them with Flying Spaghetti Monster jibes, say that religion poisons everything, etc. etc. , go for it and feel however doing so makes you feel. But if someone calls foul, don't act like they're bullshitting.

    ReplyDelete
  10. But Islam is a violent faith, in Matthew 7:6 Jesus does say "Do not give what is holy to dogs, do not throw your pearls to pigs", Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu by her own admission never believed in her sky fairy of choice and spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction and was a friend to the worst of the rich, taking misappropriated money from the atrocious Duvalier family in Haiti (whose rule she praised in return) and from Charles Keating of the Lincoln Savings and Loan and in the meantime the primitive hospice in Calcutta was as run down when she died as it always had been—she preferred California clinics when she got sick herself—and her order always refused to publish any audit.

    Belief in absurdity leads inexorably to atrocity and the Steadman's of the world are complicit in this as any xtian abortion clinic bomber or muslim jihadist.

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    Replies
    1. steve, intolerance and demonization are what lead inexorably to atrocity. Please stop embodying them.

      Delete
    2. steve, in human history there have been many atrocities, many outrages, and many incidences of injustice. There have been far too few incidences of solutions, settlements, and healing of these.

      People with strong religious beliefs are to be found on both sides of that scale. People who hold extremist views, as you do, who demonize those they disagree with, who refuse to see anything but the darkest motives in those they oppose, can only be found on one side of that scale. And they can be found by the cartload-full.

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    3. andy, will you please provide links to sites devoted to pushing religious beliefs where you've told religious people who refuse to see anything but the darkest motives in those they oppose that they should quit poisoning the well and work at coming to a mutual understanding with atheists?

      Tell you what, go to UD (uncommon descent) and tell the IDiots there that they should work at coming to a mutual understanding with atheists. The IDiots there claim that their agenda is strictly scientific and has nothing to do with religion so that should make it easy to get them to go along. The thing is though, their agenda is religious (and political), they are chronic liars, they are totally against atheism (and even theistic evolution), and they see nothing but the darkest motives in those they oppose simply because they (the IDiots) are sanctimonious god-wannabes who demonize anyone who doesn't blindly and obediently kiss their asses.

      If you're actually concerned about people who unjustifiably demonize other people for no good reason, go after all the religious people who believe in and push the totally negative crap that EVERYONE is evil and fallen and that they, along with their descendants and all the other life forms on Earth, should and will pay the price, during and after life, for being evil and fallen sinners.

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    4. I comment a lot at Huffington Post, and I condemn religious stupidity there frequently, such as the recent asinine statement by a Republican candidate that pregnancy resulting from rape was god's will.

      I have nothing to gain by providing you with links. I use an alias at Huffpo, and you have made your opinion of me more than clear, and I have no desire to raise myself in your eyes.
      MFBWY

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    5. And andy, if you really want to see what I'm pointing out, read a bunch of the demonizing fire and brimstone that kairosfocus spews on UD (and on his own sites) and address your comments to him about coming to a mutual agreement with atheists. After all, he's one of if not the the most 'prominent' IDiot on UD, and be sure to address him by his real name (gordon e mullings).

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  11. steve oberski, to his credit, is honest. He is unashamedly anti-theistic and is as bigoted, intolerant, blinkered and unforgiving in his views, and as extreme in his 'anti-ism' -thus rendering him utterly incapable of perceiving even a molecule of decency in that which he opposes - as any of Stedman's composites. His views make it quite clear that Stedman isn't bullshitting.

    This is an opportunity for Sandwalk readers to second his mentality and own its extremism, or to distance yourself from it as being, in Stedman's word, 'toxic'. Either way, I thank steve for demonstrating so eloquently that Stedman has a valid point.

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    1. So are you claiming that Islam isn't violent, Matthew 7:6 has been misinterpreted and Mother Teresa wasn't a misogynistic douche bag ?

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    2. Not seeing the intolerance. Can you point out specifically what you find intolerant?

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    3. steve asks,
      'So are you claiming that Islam isn't violent?'

      Is maleness a violent gender? Is America a violent country? Is meat eating violent? Is wearing fur an act of violence? Is abortion violence?

      You can find people who will answer, 'yes, unequivocally, no question, no room for debate' tp each of the above questions.
      Welcome to their club, steve.

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    4. Andy, I think my questions were all reasonable and worthy of an an actual answer. You were the one who made the claims about atheist interpretations of Islam, Matthew 7:6 and "Mother" Teresa so I think a substantive answer would be in order.

      Is it possible to remove the aspects of violence from Islam (specifically all imprecations to violence in the Koran and the Hadith) and still have something that is substantially Islam ?

      Did Richard Dawkins misinterpret Matthew 7:6, deliberately or otherwise, and if so what is the correct interpretation ?

      With respect to Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, which statement(s) of fact, if any did I get wrong ?

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    5. steve, fair enough. 'reasonable and worthy of an actual answer' questions. Except let's agree that the words you used to describe Mother Theresa go beyond asking a question, since your hatred is already revealed. Kind of like asking, 'Is it true that you have stopped beating your wife?'

      Is Islam a violent faith? An important question, and one that requires that we bring our best qualities of reasoning to the table. We shouldn't cut ourselves off from seeing nuance, and making a blanket condemnation. Just as we would not imagine it possible to have a reasonable discussion with someone who feels that abortion is always murder, no doubts in his/her mind, we can apply the same standard here.

      Well, if Islam is violent, then we need to consider why so many Muslims are getting it wrong. Indonesia is a mostly Muslim country with a population roughly three quarters of the United States. And yet, unlike the U.S., Indonesia doesn't have more than one hundred military bases scattered all over the globe, and a fleet of aircraft carriers poised to strike at any target within hours. Nor has Indonesia been involved in a conflict somewhere on the globe non-stop for more than sixty years.
      If you go to Indonesia, as I did, and talk to the people there, you will find that the overwhelming majority of them don't fit any image of a violent Muslim, and yet in fact do consider themselves to be Muslims, many quite devoutly so. Even though they are Muslims, they are proud of their country's cultural treasures from their Hindu and Buddhist history. They were very angry at George Bush when the U.S. attacked Iraq, but they don't 'hate America'. It would be more accurate to say that they hate America's actions against Muslim countries, which they see as unfair, unprovoked, and power-driven. But they don't think that all Americans are violent. I was treated with great respect while I was there. Just as I am by the Malaysians and Indonesians I meet and interact with here in Tokyo.

      So is Islam a violent faith? No easy answer. Is it culpable in violence? Yes, it has been and will continue to be. However, saying, 'yes, emphatically' is not likely to open any sort of dialog with ANY Muslim, is it? Certainly not with the ones (all too many) who are predisposed toward hatred of outsiders (alas there are all too many of these), and most assuredly not when said to the far greater number of non-violent, fairly-to-extremely tolerant Muslims such as I met in Indonesia and often meet in Tokyo. Which is exactly what Stedman is talking about, cutting off understanding and dialog.

      I create a separate comment for the other questions.

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    6. steve asks if Matthew 7:6 has been misinterpreted. May I assume you are referring to the interpretation offered by John Hartung, who is not a biblical scholar but is rather a professor of anesthesiology with a PhD in anthropology, that Dawkins cites in his book? And, are you assuming that his interpretation is the most valid? If so, why?

      'Do not cast your pearls before swine' is one of the most widely used quotations from the bible. The overwhelmingly popular interpretation is that it is unwise to waste ones time trying to persuade someone of the value of something if they are either incapable or unwilling to see it. I think that most people would tend to associate it as being related to another widely used quotation of Jesus, from Matthew, that he who has ears must listen. In other words, in both cases Jesus can be interpreted as advising against closing ones ears to something, and the futility of attempting to communicate with those who 'close their ears'. Where does the certitude that Hartung's much less charitable interpretation is more accurate derive from?
      You undoubtedly have other sources. Please cite them and I will keep an open mind.

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    7. steve, as to your asking 'With respect to Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, which statement(s) of fact, if any did I get wrong ?', I don't even understand why you are asking.

      If you look at my original comment, I wrote 'How about ol' Saint Hitch, who just KNEW he was going to outrage people by titling his smear of Mother Theresa 'The Missionary Position'?'

      I have been arguing about attitudes. Particularly, sneering, deliberately offensive, attitudes which, when conveyed as someone like Hitchens does, makes any sort of mutual understanding, to say nothing of respect, possible. That is what Stedman is writing about to. I have no strong opinion about Mother Theresa. I really haven't looked into her life all that much. Christopher Hitchens is not someone who I would wish to turn to for enlightenment about her, because she is not a saint, nor a villain, to me. I'm really not all that interested in her, and I am not interested in Hitchens either, because he hates people. When he talks about Kissinger, he comes right out and uses the word 'hate', more than once. I don't like Kissinger, and I disagree with nearly everything he did with his public life. But I don't hate him, because I don't hate, period. Hitchens is not going to teach me to hate Kissinger or Mother Theresa, and furthermore I don't want to hate them. Hate is his problem, not mine.

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    8. The short of the Mother Teresa story was that her philosophy was "the more time you spend suffering the more precious the time you are not suffering." Taking this to the logical conclusion she provided the sick with a mildly hellish existence (and I'm trying not to be inflammatory referring to it this way.) Keeping people sick and hastening their death was her idea of helping people, and it is not an idea that is incompatible with the premises of Christianity.

      It's extremely incompatible with secular values, and therefore you can see some immediate conflict with this and the values of moderate Christians. But the much greater threat is that this view makes a lot of sense when you go looking for the meaning of life on the assumption that the Bible gives us a correct story of our origins and relationship with our creator- you have to have a significantly less logical view of the world to unite that assumption with the kind of values a majority of modern Christians have.

      To that overwhelming majority of people the actions Mother Teresa took should be incompatible with... really any kind of praise. There's no exaggeration there, under any other name we'd all be calling her depraved. The facts really crush this dream, but just like you most people haven't looked into it and just assume she was awesome because of some publicity and the whole sainthood thing.

      So the word play on the cover of that book is really so trivial an issue here that most of us probably can't really bring ourselves to care about, when the actual contents of the book don't do something so trivial as spark the contrast between humping and the popular image of a diligent little old lady. The light of the truth (or I suppose facts if you don't want me using that word) scours that popular notion of the woman out of your mind as if scrubbed by steel wool.

      That book was an assault against an undeniably fictional history, so if anybody was mad about the words on the cover then that practically protected them from learning things they would desperately not want to know.

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    9. When we cast our gaze upon peaceful Islamic societies we see a very similar issue. Their prophet declared it to be every man's duty to wage war against infidels when possible. There are some mental acrobats that Muslims can do to get out of this responsibility even when they would have a military advantage, but they would rather not know that these are founded on a weak Hadith or otherwise clearly not in line with what their prophet was saying.

      So then we have to distinguish between two questions: Are Islamic people violent? and Is the religion of Islam violent.
      For the first question any person with basic knowledge of a globe and what portion of that Islam covers you'll probably not get the intolerant sort of answer, but to be so generous with the second question you have to reject the tenets of Islam to allow the beliefs of these people that consider themselves Muslim.

      Well, I guess rather than jumping to obvious conclusions I should instead ask you this: Should a religious culture of a group be considered "Islam" if it doesn't think the words of the Koran are divinely inspired? If yes then how much of the book can the reject and still be considered Islam? Can we call something Christianity if it proclaims both that Christ died for our sins but that we also never had any sins? Can we call them Christianity if they think Jesus was just a normal mortal with ideas that weren't particularly better than any other philosopher?

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    10. Just in case I wasn't clear enough Indonesian Muslims seem to not declare lots of wars despite the clear instructions of Islam. It seems that their history in other religions gave them different philosophies which they have chosen to let trump the obvious and direct words of Muhammad.

      Can you tell us anything about how they react to the verse stating that Jihad is their duty? If so does this make sense in relation to the words of Muhammad stating that the highest jihad was "The person who is killed whilst spilling the last of his blood"?

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    11. Shawn, here is a perspective you might be interested in. It was written by a person in the comments section about the Libyan embassy attack. I may not agree with every word, but his comments on Malaysia and Indonesia are worth considering.

      "Islam is *not* the problem. It’s the people. Culture is the problem here. Arab and Persian culture are harsh, and it’s those cultures that are to blame for all the dumb stuff done in the name of Islam.

      Everyone ignores Malaysia and Indonesia. Those are two countries whose official religion is Islam. Both countries have a huge Muslim majority of citizens. Both of those countries are free of the crazy violence we see in the Middle East. Neither country persecute Christians. In fact, you’re free to practice whatever religion you please in those two countries. There are laws in Malaysia and Indonesia that protect people’s rights to their freedom of religion.

      You don’t see these insane riots over Mohammed movies and pictures. And before someone starts screaming “SHARIA,” yes, Muslims are held to Sharia laws in those countries but here’s the kicker: ONLY Muslims are held to Sharia.

      They are also prosperous countries with growing economies. Heck, look at the UAE in the Middle East. Dubai is one of the richest places on the planet. Although it is technically illegal to practice Christianity there, Dubai is relatively free from all the crazy violence happening in its neighboring countries.

      Also, why are American Muslims peaceful? Probably because our culture doesn’t support killing in the name of religion. Why are Malaysia and Indonesia so peaceful? Probably because their cultures don’t support killing in the name of religion.

      Islam is not the problem in the Middle East: Arab culture is the problem. If all the Arabs were Christians, they’d be stoning people for taking the Lord’s name in vain. If all the Arabs were Jews, they’d be killing people for working on the Sabath, and stoning adulterers."

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    12. Why are Malaysia and Indonesia so peaceful? Probably because their cultures don’t support killing in the name of religion.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2002_Bali_bombings

      Among those killed in Paddy's Pub (see the table of fatalities by country) was a Polish woman called Beata Pawlak, a well-known reporter who specialised in Islamic countries and really understood and appreciated their culture. The bombers were Javan, Andy, so it's hardly just a matter of violent Arab culture versus peacefukl Indonesia. Comparatively peaceful, admittedly, but Jemaah Islamiyah is a native growth.

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    13. Piotr, please note that the words above are not my own. As I wrote above ' I may not agree with every word, but his comments on Malaysia and Indonesia are worth considering.'


      It is true that you will always find extremists, everywhere, and then when they feel supported by the teachings of their religion, they can, and have, commit horrific acts of violence. No argument.

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    14. It isn't just that they feel supported by those, they are very much supported by them. The people who don't behave that way are going against what the religion clearly tells them.

      There's more to it than that though- the religion is specifically set up to encourage 'fundamentalists' to take over once most people are practicing. They're specifically told to lie if it spreads the religion so that they can fight as soon as fighting is productive.

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  12. @andyboerger:

    Of course, that's the least-charitable possible interpretation of "Islam is a violent religion", a phrase with many defensible interpretations.

    Wait, wasn't Stedman's whole point to promote charity to the opposition? No such obligation to atheists?

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    1. Wait, a second...even apart from what I said your argument is really bad. These are actually mostly questions of fact:
      -Are males more violent than females? We can actually look up violence statistics. I'm not going to bother but I'd be very surprised if my guess was wrong.
      -Is America a violent country? Again, we can actually look at statistics and come up with an answer. Compare homicides in the US to homicides in any country with a comparable per capita GDP. That's ignoring the fact that the US has spent the last decade or so killing brown people as matter of official US policy.
      -Is meat eating violent? Depends on what we mean by "violence" in this case. Obviously not the sense in which it's intended in the last two questions because most people don't actually kill the animals they eat. Is the act of eating it violent? Not particularly. Are the conditions under which animals are raised for slaughter violent? In most cases, yes quite clearly violent.
      -Again, wearing the fur itself is not particularly violent (the phrase is "fur is murder" but that's just a slogan). But depending on the conditions in which the animal is raised or slaughtered it could be, and realistically those conditions are probably really bad.
      -Is abortion violence? I suppose if you think the fetus is an unqualified human being you'd have to say so.

      I don't see why I'm supposed to be shocked an appalled about considering these questions or coming to an answer one way or the other. Kinda the same with Islam and violence (and Christianity and violence and Hinduism and violence...)

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    2. Dan, you have to read the article. He is not making a blanket condemnation of atheists. He himself is an atheist. He is condemning vitriolic anti-theistic positions such as are espoused by PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, etc.

      I agree with you, you could make a case for each of the questions I put to Steve. Why do you think I chose those particular questions? Each one of them is something about which many people hold strong and fervently held opinions. Each one involves ones ideas about morality, which makes them all the more nettlesome when argued about. It is hard to argue reasonably with someone who takes an extreme and intolerant, no-wiggle-room stance toward any of them.

      I, and Stedman, are not saying the positions that atheists hold are 'wrong'. He, obviously, because he is also an atheist. I am not, but I have been one in the past, and probably about half the people I meet on a daily basis are. No issue. Believe or disbelieve as you will. My issue, and Stedman's, is with the kind of line-in-the-sand mentality that makes communication almost impossible, and poisons the well of mutual understanding, learning and growth among our struggling species.

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    3. andyboerger said:

      "My issue, and Stedman's, is with the kind of line-in-the-sand mentality that makes communication almost impossible, and poisons the well of mutual understanding,..."

      Then explain why you have a line-in-the-sand mentality against Fifi the pink unicorn god and the FSM and why you make vitriolic remarks against and about them and to me or about me when I bring them up as a valid comparison to other alleged gods. Why do you take a sneering, deliberately offensive, extreme and intolerant, no-wiggle-room stance toward them and toward me or anyone else who compares them to other alleged gods? Where's your "mutual understanding"?

      You play all kinds of asinine games andy and it's obvious that you have no interest in any "mutual understanding". You're just another designer-creator-spirit-god pusher who thinks that the religious beliefs you personally hold or find acceptable in other people should be exempt from scrutiny, ridicule, and condemnation.

      Besides, what the hell is there to understand about people who believe in and push antiquated, impossible, monstrous, ridiculous, mind-numbing, contradictory, tyrannically demanding, threatening, coercive, reality denying, science denying, bigoted, sanctimonious, hypocritical, hateful, genocidal, sexist, child abusing, animal abusing, free thought bashing, freedom bashing, war mongering, rape promoting, slavery promoting, self esteem crushing, doom and gloom religious fairy tales?

      Have you ever read the bible and koran? They're the 'official rule books' for christianity and islam. You'll probably respond with some horseshit about how people can legitimately pick and choose the parts they like and conveniently ignore the rest and still call themselves a christian or a muslim, and that by doing so they don't have to assume any responsibility for the parts they conveniently ignore. Is that 'honest' of them?



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    4. twt, I do NOT have a line-in-the-sand mentality against Fifi. I LOVE Fifi. I want you and her to be very happy together. And I hope she will always share her magical bananas with you.

      There, feel better?

      btw, how's the job going? Made any great scientific discoveries lately? Had anything published in a peer reviewed journal? I'd LOVE to hear!

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    5. Them accommodationists sure are vicious and surly when cornered.

      Approach with caution.

      If we're lucky he's finished gnawing his rhetorical leg off and will slink away leaving a trail of regurgitated platitudes, bad analogies and strained metaphors.

      May be time to update the tetanus shots.

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    6. 'cornered'?
      Now you're trying to be funny too, I see.

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  13. [yawn] I'll add Stedman's semi-fictional account to the ever-growing pile of "New Atheist" criticisms that don't resemble any atheist I've ever met or read, and I spend almost my entire life around atheists. It's the ultimate irony that accomodationists seem incapable of representing atheists accurately.

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  14. What the hell kinda typeface is that supposed to be? Was his cover designed be a drunk five-year-old?

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  15. Atheists claim the mantle of rationality -- so perhaps the participants in this forum could stick to communicating that way, and skip the ad hominem invective? (BTW, that seems to be the gist of Stedman's main point, too.)

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