“New Atheism”, Blasphemy Day, and Christmas

I’ve weighed in on “new atheism” before and now I will again…in a meandering sort of way. I just read this article from NPR courtesy of a Twitter person that I can’t quite remember now (sorry) about the “Bitter Rift” dividing atheists. There’s a rift? I suppose there is.

When I talked about this last, I mentioned how simply stating that atheists exist or some motto that is not directly insulting to religion isn’t the same as being rude and offensive. But some atheists are rude and offensive otherwise – they call religious people morons and idiots, they say religion is the most evil thing in the world, etc. I have been known to indulge in this myself before I calmed down a little (not to say I’m not still angry at some of the more disgusting things I have seen, but my anger has matured somewhat into a less belligerent rage).

Get to the point, Kimbo. Ok I guess this is where I stand: I was angry. Welcome to 15 years later. I’m still angry at a lot of the ridiculous nonsense I hear, but ultimately I want to be part of something good. I want to be part of something positive that I can have pride in. And I still don’t want to have to hide who I am. Anger is frigging exhausting.

This is where things like Blasphemy Day start to interfere. I think people are not getting it on two levels: 1) They don’t get the point of it and 2) they take it way too far. My interpretation of Blasphemy Day (and correct me if I’m wrong) is that the point is to illustrate that nothing is a taboo topic. It’s an exercise in free speech, in that religion is not a sacred subject and we can say what we want about it. Some have taken that to mean that it’s our opportunity to be complete utter assholes to religious people and insult them personally.

(Aside: I was relatively amused, though, by the hijacking of the relatively insulting motto “No god, no good. Know god, know good.” on Twitter last month.)

And this most recent billboard by the FFRF is too much.

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Come on.

No secular or atheist group should be promoting the phrase “there is no god”. The original UK atheist ads at least had the decency to stick a “probably” in there. The “there is no god” stance is indefensible as an alternative to religion. This ad is especially bizarre with an accompanying picture of Santa and considering its release during the Christmas season. I won’t even bother to point out the grammatical error…

Thanks, FFRF, for making us all look like pricks. I mean, I get the whole annoyance with Christmas, I do. I’ve posted about it before. It’s 2 months of being reminded that I’m not Christian set to obnoxious music (which, where I live, is played on the radio stations 24/7 which necessarily also subjects me to various otherwise tolerable Christmas songs ruined for life by the latest pop or “punk” remix). But I think they are separate issues, so I can’t really explain the Christmas imagery on this sign other than they were purposely trying to be provocative.

Ok sure, fair enough. There’s absolutely no reason why I, as an atheist, should have to respect and observe a holiday that’s not mine if I don’t want to. But I don’t think an obnoxious Christmas ad is the best approach here. I much prefer this ad, for example:

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It has a general positive message. It acknowledges atheism in its own right rather than needlessly comparing it to the Christian normative and thereby pissing off the very people we should be trying to make accept us. That was some poor sentence structure, Kimbo. My point: Inclusive messages are more positive and less likely to distract everyone with how offensive it is. Why bring Santa into this at all?

I don’t like being an asshole. I don’t like linking to associations that make atheists look like assholes. Bitter rift? Maybe there’s something to that after all…

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9 responses to ““New Atheism”, Blasphemy Day, and Christmas

  1. It takes a million “good” atheists to overcome the damage done by one Dawkins.

  2. Kimbo you are so wrong this time! The statement in the ad is entirely defensible, unless of course you’re willing to say that the statement “there are no invisible, flying hippopotamuses ” is also indefensible. Neither is absolutely provable, but there is no evidence for either one, indeed a surprising lack of evidence were you to assume the thing exists.

    As to your other point, I really don’t think this does much to hurt the public image of atheists. It’s already pretty shitty, but what changes people’s minds on that is personal interaction with actual atheists. When people have enough personal interactions with atheists who are nice people (the vast majority of them, including Dawkins), they will stop assuming that any one group (like the FFRF) speaks for all of them and this stuff won’t matter.

    Just be nice to people in person, and don’t be afraid to admit your beliefs and the rest of this stuff won’t matter. In this case, perhaps it will encourage people to talk about their atheism with others to show that not all atheists are like that!

  3. What you’re talking about is defaulting to the null hypothesis without sufficient evidence to prove the hypothesis. We default to no god because there’s a lack of evidence otherwise, but you don’t KNOW that there’s no god, so you can’t defend the statement “there is no god” without resorting to personal belief. “There is probably no god” is defensible for all the reasons you said.

    The statement “there is no god” leaves the realm of sensible likelihood and enters assumption. It invites religious fundamentalists into a tu quoque argument. It’s distracting and, I think, tangential to the actual purpose of these ads – which is to raise awareness of atheists and let other atheists know they aren’t alone. There are other better messages to serve those purposes.

    People already think we’re vile and we only add to it by being dicks. Good PR is important. It’s really hard for some people to “be nice to people in person” when they can’t tell anyone except their closest friends that they’re an atheist due to the extremely poor public image we have and the negative attitudes, assumptions, and treatment that comes with that. That’s where ads like this have an opportunity to help – but this one fails.

  4. Yeah Kimbo I understand that I don’t KNOW that God doesn’t exist. But if you really want all your statements to be technically precise the only thing you can say you KNOW is that you yourself exist in some form, somewhere. Any other statement of knowledge is indefensible if the standard you’re using is that you have to KNOW it with absolute, 100% certainty.

    It is my contention that you can simultaneously understand that you do not KNOW something to be true and still be reasonable in making the claim that it is true. If I were to say, Yes Virginia . . . Einstein’s relativity is true, or Yes Virginia . . . there are no invisible unicorns on the Moon, I think those statements would be entirely defensible, despite not being 100%, absolutely, positively without a doubt provable.

    This isn’t just defaulting to the null hypothesis, it’s defaulting to the null hypothesis when there is neither any evidence to believe otherwise or another plausible hypothesis. The god hypotheses, especially the ones for which the existence of a god actually matters to us humans, are completely implausible, many of them completely illogical or directly refuted by evidence we can see, i.e. the existence of natural disasters refutes an all-powerful, all-knowing, benevolent being (but do those natural disasters actually exist or are they an illusion OMG!?).

    Finally, I think the statement “There probably is no God” is also indefensible in your sense. I don’t think that, if you really want to use that broad sense of the word God that includes deistic gods and the like, that it is impossible from our vantage point to make any statement about the probability that a god exists other than that it isn’t zero and it isn’t one. So if you really want to be precise and technical like that, you have to go with a statement like “Although the probability that a god exists is unknown, we think it is unreasonable to believe one exists without evidence for its existence.”

  5. The statement is “there is no God”. We don’t really know that, so it’s not responsible to say that. You’re using things that we do have supporting evidence for, or could conceivably investigate, to bolster your point about something we have NO evidence whatsoever either way for and can’t investigate.

    I stand by what I said. Take it or leave it. The “probably” makes all the difference – in one word, we encompass everything you said in your last sentence. And that was my point with that one sentence in the entire post. [Edit: By the way, the entire sentence was “The “there is no god” stance is indefensible as an alternative to religion.”] The rest of the post was about not being a dick.

  6. Funny, I was going to blog on this VERY topic today, but got sucked into, you know, work. (I did tweet about it… ).

    I think you’re right on the money. Ads like this one from the FFRF (as a fair amount of other stuff from FFRF) is immensely irritating to me, as it seems to go out of its way to make atheists seem like crotchety, pompous, arrogant pricks.

    Who is this ad going to win over? Even most ATHEISTS (most I know, anyway) won’t be enticed by such an ad. Instead, the “blue sky” ads or the GORGEOUS Indiana “you can be good without god” bus ads are much better.

    To me, seeing a 1994-clipart-Santa be a jerk does nothing but give ammunition to people like Bill O’Reilly. It does nothing to reach out to nonreligious people looking for community, it does nothing to foster a hospitable atmosphere to atheists, and it does nothing — nothing good, anyway — for the eyes (god, it’s an ugly ad).

  7. Punk remixes of Christmas songs?!? You’ve got to be kidding. Sheesh and Jeebles Crystals. Punk hasn’t even been a legitimate form for 20 years and now they’re breaking into the Christmas market?

    Got to be the end of the world now for sure. FSM for 2012 and teh win!

  8. I’m right with you – aside from irritating people, what precisely is the FFRF’s point? Who is their target market and what action do they want them to take? Their message isn’t even defensible. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence! The whole god proposition is unfalsifiable, and it’s just as wrong to say with certainty that there are gods as to say there are none. The best you can do is to point out that there is insufficient evidence for rational people to believe in such things. This isn’t rocket science.

    Conversely, the “… you are not alone.” billboards have a positive message, a well-defined target market, and a clear suggested course of action. There should be nothing controversial about those billboard, but there will be hysteria among the theists who are threatened and offended by our mere existence. Any complaining makes them look like the bigots they are – that’s a PR win. Further, if the goal is to build an atheist community, the billboards are a way to bring people together which is vitally important in areas of high religiosity.

    I gave up on the FFRF in college because they behaved like a pack of assholes. It seems that every time I think I should give the FFRF another chance, they do something pointlessly antagonistic like this and give atheists a black eye. Thanks for nothing, FFRF.

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