10
Feb
10

Atheistic Aggression

Greg Laden, as always, has incited me into thought about a topic. My thoughts here are only tangentially related, and thus do not merit to be placed as a comment there, but I really think you should read his post (and the comment on it) as well as it could give you some insight into where my thoughts are going.

Humans are notorious for forming groups and coalitions (the enemy of my enemy is my friend) and these groups and coalitions rise and fall quite more frequently when we look at culture historically. (The religious right, for example, didn’t come about until the 1960’s and didn’t become particularly powerful until the 70’s and 80’s) These groups typically exhibit knee-jerk reactions of “if they agree with it, it must be wrong!” to all points from the opposition groups. I am unsure as to the cause of this, but I do certainly see its effects in current political exchanges-namely with Republicans voting against their own proposals. The point I think Greg was trying to make is that these knee-jerk reactions and statements of staunch opposition (bordering on hate-speech) to statements by religious groups should not be embraced or utilized and some of the rhetoric made by atheists can seem, to an untrained observer, to be endorsing intolerance or violence towards a specific demographic. This would make it possible for a very bigoted individual to easily hide within the group.

I’m not entirely sure if this was indeed his point, but this is what I gathered. Please, if I am wrong here, explain the error of my ways.

How difficult is it to distinguish between knee-jerk criticisms of religions and well-reasoned arguments? I would personally state this is quite simple by looking at the premises of the argument, but this oversimplifies a very complex issue. There are certainly legitimate criticisms of many religious claims and ideas, but this does not mean all claims from the religious are equally lacking in validity.

Here’s where I go off on a tangent:

I’m not going to say I’m a rebel (I’m really not at all) or that I have completely outlandish ideals, but the vast majority of atheists in this country (being a very tiny minority) are at least somewhat familiar with authority and “the group” being wrong. I’m not saying this makes it impossible for “group think” violence if a person we see as our “in-group” and a “leader” begins to incite violence or make hateful remarks, but it does make us more likely to question and criticize that individual without the support of other group members. If we put forth legitimate criticisms, we very well may convince others such criticisms are warranted.

I only explain it this way because, for example, think of the last time you heard a moderate Christian criticize a fundamentalist Christian, or the last time you heard a moderate Islamic cleric condemn terrorist acts in the name of Allah? When was the last time you heard an atheist criticize another atheist for being wrong?

You hear people of different religious factions criticizing each other, but since “atheist” is a description rather than a religion or belief, this means atheists diverge greatly from one another in ideas. This divergence means we don’t always agree unless there is sufficient evidence, and even among atheists, denialists exist. Then there are the soft and fluffy “new age” neohippies which generally describe themselves as “spiritual.” They generally get lumped in with the “other” category under religious affiliation.

Anyway, that was my tangent, someone point me in the right direction.

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19 Responses to “Atheistic Aggression”


  1. 1 Pliny-the-in-Between
    February 10, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    Where I have seen atheists go off the rails are those that aren’t really what I call ‘amystics’ – ie people who aren’t really naturalists in the first place. People who embrace new agey or other forms of mysticism in place of more traditional religions. Such individuals often seem to react with a degree of defensiveness and aggression when talking about their beliefs that is indistinguishable to me from any other form of metaphysical argument.

    It seems to me that these people are really just skeptical of organized religion rather than just generally skeptical.

  2. 2 jaredcormier
    February 10, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    Well, yes, but this isn’t a “pick on the neohippies” party. I am actually trying to find out how frequently we, as naturalists, are self-correcting. I know the sciences are plagued with self-corrections from various members of the community, but within the naturalist blogosphere, how often are we self-correcting?

  3. 3 mac
    February 10, 2010 at 11:02 pm

    I get some gentle correction from time to time on my silly little blog. Ususally it’s right, I’ll be going on a tangental rant and someone calls me on it. I see it (even if I don’t admit it), try to do better and go about my way.

  4. February 10, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    Oh hell, I regularly criticize other atheists and when I was a moderate Christian, I was all about criticizing not only the extremist Christians, but the less fundamentalist as well. I am an all around, equal opportunity asshole. If someone is wrong by my reckoning, I don’t tend to hesitate to say as much.

    Seriously though, I think it is all too sad when people are disinclined to criticize there own. I mean that in the microcosm especially. It is much better to criticize a friend, than to hope that someone else will do it. When you criticize a friend, they will likely listen. When someone else who is not a friend does it, it is just as likely to get their back up and dig their heels.

  5. 5 jaredcormier
    February 11, 2010 at 12:03 am

    I generally try to be an equal-opportunity critic as well, however, I’m not sure if I am willing to criticize my friends more than I do anyone else, but I couldn’t say I am less likely to. Personally, I like when they dig their heels in; it’s more fun to watch when you point out they’ve dug their heels into quicksand.*

    *note: it’s only fun because quicksand won’t kill anyone, but it is quite embarrassing when you get pulled out.

  6. February 11, 2010 at 7:46 am

    “:This would make it possible for a very bigoted individual to easily hide within the group.” OR, for an outside observer to simply see the commentary, misinterpret, and thus form a lower than appropriate opinion of the commenter, OR, for persons in the group to actually have their attitudes somewhat shaped by their own rhetoric (or by their own reaction to other people reacting to their own rhetoric) in ways they would not normally intend.

  7. 7 jaredcormier
    February 11, 2010 at 11:34 am

    very multifaceted…

  8. 8 mk
    February 11, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    This:

    The point I think Greg was trying to make is that these knee-jerk reactions and statements of staunch opposition (bordering on hate-speech) to statements by religious groups should not be embraced or utilized and some of the rhetoric made by atheists can seem, to an untrained observer, to be endorsing intolerance or violence towards a specific demographic. This would make it possible for a very bigoted individual to easily hide within the group.

    Is different from this:

    Much of your commentary together with this statement could lead some people to assume that you have some serious antisemitic issues to deal with. I’m not saying that, but I just want you to know that it could look this way. (I don’t happen to think it is the case.)

    For me, saying the above to someone you considered a friend–and you’re not a stupid person, you know very well how this will be received!–is rude and unnecessary. Very Glenn Beck-ish.

    This is what I said at the time:

    OK… my take:
    No reasonable person would think SC is anti-semitic. It is therefore completely unnecessary to even suggest it. It appeared to be a gratuitous debating tactic to set the opponent back on their heals. It is wrong to say things like “some people might think you’re an anti-Semite–not me of course, but you know, some people.” Especially so when a friend is involved.

    And here is what Paul W. wrote (I happen to think his is clearer and more eloquent, and I agree with it.):

    Greg,
    I thought that the comment about S.C. and antisemitism was a bad one. I don’t think you meant to suggest that she was anti-semitic, or likely to be.
    I did sound like you thought that while you personally didn’t lean that way, you really don’t know, and it wouldn’t be an unreasonable guess for other people to make. (If I didn’t know you better, I might have read your comment as a sneaky insinuation.)
    Given the nature of the charge, that’s somewhat faint praise.
    For the record, I’m pretty sure S.C. isn’t the least bit antisemitic, after reading various stuff she’s written over a period of years. I also don’t think what she’s written here supports that.

    So yes, there is much to discuss about how people approach criticizing religion and religious people. But there is also something to be said for how you criticize your allies/friends. Stubbornly refusing to admit error in judgment, I think, is a poor way to go about it. I expect that kind of shit from Stephanie Z… but it’s a huge surprise to see it from Greg.

    Then there was his stubborness about whether that post you are refering to was clear and understandable. Even PZ seemed confused by it. But, no, no, no… everybody else is wrong. Ugh.

  9. 9 jaredcormier
    February 11, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    mk, if you ignore all of your commentary, just throw it out, ok, then look at what Greg actually said. Don’t read anything into it.

    Much of your commentary together with this statement could lead some people to assume that you have some serious antisemitic issues to deal with. I’m not saying that, but I just want you to know that it could look this way. (I don’t happen to think it is the case.)

    He is not saying she is antisemitic, he is saying her statement could seem antisemitic. He also stated that he doesn’t think she is, but it could be easily misunderstood to be. We have digressed from the topic at hand considerably.

    This isn’t meant to be a continuation Greg’s comment thread. I’ve read it all-more than once. I see your point, I’ve read your argument, and I still find it lacking in validity for the reasons I gave in this post, although I didn’t blatantly spell them out until the comments:

    I generally try to be an equal-opportunity critic as well, however, I’m not sure if I am willing to criticize my friends more than I do anyone else, but I couldn’t say I am less likely to

    If that wasn’t clear enough, I’ll explain it precisely:
    Criticize your friends just as you would your enemies, your friends are more likely to listen.

    This post and previous comments explained why your previous arguments were wrong. Don’t repeat the same argument over and over, you’ll sound like a creationist, and I don’t think you are a creationist.

  10. 10 NewEnglandBob
    February 11, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    “When was the last time you heard an atheist criticize another atheist for being wrong?”

    all the time.

  11. February 11, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    MK: If I had made clear that I did not think and was not saying SC was an antisemite THREE times instead of TWO times in the same fucking paragraph gotten the point through your thick skull or hers?

  12. 12 Pliny-the-in-Between
    February 11, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    The more I think about this (tangentially I will admit) the more it points to the problem many people of faith have in understanding so called atheism – There is no such thing in the way they seem to speak of it. It isn’t a religion. No atheists gather in some shrine to anti-pray or give thanks to nothing. Atheism is simply a nodal result along many paths of critical thinking. Not the only one of course and not necessarily the most important. It’s a part of what some people are but not so defining. It’s simply another rejected hypothesis among many. And one that unless some astounding new evidence comes along, many of us would prefer to move well past. Pot stirers can rant about ‘you this or that believe this or that way because I say so,” and my usual response is still lilely to be ‘whatever’. No doubt that is even less comforting to believers but I think it’s true. I for one would much rather hear a debate on some scientific subtlety than another tired diatribe in defense of faith. The only thing I find annoying about this topic is the bandwidth consumed by it.

    As for naturalist’s tendencies to protect their friends points of view? Anyone who thinks that has probably never been to a scientific forum before. Amongst my friends and I several papers never even were submitted for review as designed because of the scalding they got from our little group. As it should be.

  13. February 11, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    “He is not saying she is antisemitic, he is saying her statement could seem antisemitic. He also stated that he doesn’t think she is, but it could be easily misunderstood to be.”

    And do you agree with that? If so, what is the basis for doing so? Please explain.

    “We have digressed from the topic at hand considerably.”

    A) Bull. You’ve made a number of arguments about people without providing any concrete examples.

    B) That’s pretty easy for you to say, isn’t it?

  14. 15 Pliny-the-in-Between
    February 11, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    I spent some time on Greg Laden’s site reading his post and commentary to the responses. I’m going to interpret his comments as a reminder that any true skeptic worth their salt should re-assess their positions as a defense against creeping bias the same way we would approach the scrutiny of any material. Always a good suggestion.

  15. 16 jaredcormier
    February 11, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    SC, I wasn’t even discussing you specifically, I wasn’t even addressing the point Greg was trying to make; I was meta-meta-discussing the point Greg was trying to make. I don’t know what Greg did or said on the original comment thread, honestly, I don’t really I care. I was addressing some ideas related to his post. If you would like to “educate” me on what happened, please do by pointing me to the thread where it originally took place, where I will read it, evaluate it, and judge it, but not on THIS page.

    What, precisely, would you like examples of? I can certainly do so, but I didn’t think they were necessary. If you have a specific request for an example, I will gladly provide it, but I think you’re just hurling an accusation of “show me examples!”

    As for this:
    “And do you agree with that? If so, what is the basis for doing so? Please explain.”
    I already explained; it is based on the quotation given me over and over. If there is more to it, please provide it.

    My rug is starting to smell like urine….

  16. February 11, 2010 at 9:27 pm

    “SC, I wasn’t even discussing you specifically, I wasn’t even addressing the point Greg was trying to make; I was meta-meta-discussing the point Greg was trying to make.”

    Since you apparently haven’t read the thread that was the impetus for his post, you have no idea what point he was trying to make. Which is exactly what he wanted – to have his vicious smears tacitly accepted as people assumed he was talking about actual behaviors and focused on the alleged problem in the abstract. And since his alleged “point” alluded to the behavior of certain people at certain blogs without demonstrating it, you need to address that – not simply proceed as though this has been established. Otherwise, you are complicit with his dishonest, baseless accusations.

    “I don’t know what Greg did or said on the original comment thread, honestly, I don’t really I care.”

    Clearly. And what kind of person does that make you? I hope you don’t expect anyone to speak up for you if you’re accused of something like that, to demand some support for the allegation.

    “I was addressing some ideas related to his post. If you would like to “educate” me on what happened, please do by pointing me to the thread where it originally took place, where I will read it, evaluate it, and judge it, but not on THIS page.”

    The recent Henry Gee thread at Laden’s. I’ve provided space at my blog, at a post I linked to above. If you read the other thread and believe he was right to say what he did, explain why, offering specifics. If not, you have an obligation to acknowledge that.

    “What, precisely, would you like examples of? I can certainly do so,”

    You should have done so in your post. If this is a real problem that people should avoid, then it would make sense to talk about what specific kind of language you think people should avoid, using real examples. No one is saying there are no examples, just that if you don’t provide them in this context you are supporting a dishonest presentation of the situation.

    “but I didn’t think they were necessary. If you have a specific request for an example, I will gladly provide it, but I think you’re just hurling an accusation of “show me examples!””

    You’re telling people what they need to beware of doing in the vaguest way possible without providing any substantive examples of anyone actually doing it.

    Here’s what I posted over at Pharyngula:

    The rhetoric about this Very Important Issue seems to be escalating. You’d think that for such a serious and abiding problem, the people writing blogs posts about it could muster, y’know, a couple of actual examples.

    The point I think Greg was trying to make is that these knee-jerk reactions and statements of staunch opposition (bordering on hate-speech) to statements by religious groups should not be embraced or utilized and some of the rhetoric made by atheists can seem, to an untrained observer, to be endorsing intolerance or violence towards a specific demographic. This would make it possible for a very bigoted individual to easily hide within the group.
    I’m not entirely sure if this was indeed his point, but this is what I gathered. Please, if I am wrong here, explain the error of my ways.

    Who cares if that’s what he was arguing? What knee-jerk reactions? What opposition that borders on hate speech? What rhetoric? What the hell are you talking about?

    “As for this:
    “And do you agree with that? If so, what is the basis for doing so? Please explain.”

    I already explained; it is based on the quotation given me over and over. If there is more to it, please provide it.”

    What quotation? How does it provide the basis for a reasonable person to think I have “serious antisemitic issues”? What other “commentary” of mine did, and how?

  17. February 11, 2010 at 9:35 pm

    I have done what Salty Current and her fellow commenters have asked of me. I tried to ping Salty’s web site but my comment is in moderation. It is in the form of a private letter to Salty Current:

    http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2010/02/a_private_letter_to_salty_curr.php

    May FSM help us all.

  18. 19 jaredcormier
    February 11, 2010 at 11:13 pm

    If you’ve made it this far, it continues here: PING!


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