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Austin Cline

Weekly Poll: Should Atheists Shut Up and Stop Upsetting Christians?

By May 3, 2012

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Should nonbelievers, skeptics, and atheists simply sit down and shut up lest the poor, sensitive Christians feel offended that anyone would dare challenge or criticize their beliefs? There has been an increasing number of people, including some prominent liberal pundits, who have basically been calling for that to happen. They want more Christians to vote for Democratic candidates and think that the presence of vocal atheists is too off-putting.

That's a demand for Christian Supremacy: for Christianity to be a privileged ideology which maintains social, cultural, and political power in part because it is kept immune from criticism or challenge. So long as people are prevented from talking about how the emperor has no clothes, the emperor retains power and authority over the sheep who meekly submit. The truth is that we need people who are willing to speak out of turn, willing to be impolite, and willing to rudely challenge those in power.

Christianity isn't an oppressed minority; Christianity is an ideology which has been behind every unjust tradition and power structure that this nation has ever experienced. Christianity doesn't need to be pandered to, it needs to be challenged, questioned, stood up to, and even mocked at times. Christians who don't get that are still part of the problem because they still think that their religion merits special deference and privileges.

Pandering to that attitude in order to attract their political support is like pandering to white racists in order to attract their political support for a program to end racism. Does that makes sense? Of course not. A political party that wants to end privileges for whites has to first convince whites that their privileges are unjust and should never have existed -- only then will their support be positive and productive. Similarly, many Christians need to be convinced that the privileges and deference which have traditionally been accorded to Christianity was never just and shouldn't continue.

Comments
February 28, 2008 at 10:33 am
(1) Annie says:

Here I am again, struggling with the way the poll choices are worded. On one hand, it is important for tolerance and open and transparent discussion and expression of one’s beliefs and evidence to support those beliefs be encouraged. However, I strongly disagree with ad hominem directed comments about others, regardless of the venue or topic. To ridicule and condemn out of hand does no service to the person making the argument or expressing the views. That in no way assumes pandering, over accommodation or sacrificing one’s views. It does mean tha the strength of the view and argument will have to rely on persuasiveness, logic, evidence and critical thinking.

Christians cannot be lumped into one category, just as no group can be considered entirely homogenized. There are significant differences within groups, and generalizations such as this don’t have much utility, let alone validity or reliability.

There are times when people with specific beliefs do need to be accommodated in those beliefs. For example, when people are dealing with significant health problems and ask to have someone pray with them, as a nurse, I certainly do stand with them, hold their hands, pat a shoulder, lend my presence and pray with them if I know the words to their prayer of choice. It doesn’t make me a believer or a religious advocate – it makes me a therapeutic tool to help them relax, relieve physiological stressors and encourage psychological ease. It doesn’t ask me to change my beliefs or negate my beliefs, either.

(I shouldn’t answer this while listening to a Bush press conference – oh, the cognitive dissonance agita! )

February 28, 2008 at 12:21 pm
(2) Austin Cline says:

To ridicule and condemn out of hand does no service to the person making the argument or expressing the views.

Ridicule is the essence of satire, so it sounds like you are rejecting satire in toto. Do you mean to claim that satire has never done any service to anyone? This would mean that, for example, the bulk political cartoons do no service because they satirize people and parties. Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain, two great satirists, did no service with their satirical works.

I don’t accept those conclusions and I doubt that many people would, which means that it can’t be right to say that ridicule necessarily does no service.

It does mean tha the strength of the view and argument will have to rely on persuasiveness, logic, evidence and critical thinking.

This seems to assume a couple of debatable points, in particular that logical arguments are the best or only means for getting people to rethink their ideas or change their minds. In my experience, a person cannot be reasoned out of a position they never reasoned themselves into. Something a bit shocking and unexpected can do a lot to shake them out of their ideological complacency ó something satire can be very good at.

Satire isn’t the only way to shock, of course, but none of the other shock tactics are warmly received, either. The posters I publish at Jesus’ General can be rather blasphemous, harsh, shocking, and unpleasant for some viewers, but that’s the point. I’m not using logic, evidence, or critical thinking to get my point across; instead, those images are designed to give people a psychological or emotional slap across the face to force people to confront difficult ideas.

Christians cannot be lumped into one category, just as no group can be considered entirely homogenized. There are significant differences within groups, and generalizations such as this donít have much utility, let alone validity or reliability.

Christians can be lumped into one category for some purposes but not for others. All Christians are theists and believe in the supernatural, for example, but not all are biblical literalists or politically conservative. I’m not sure, however, that any of the differences within Christianity would justify concluding that satire or mocking would be OK with some, but not others.

February 28, 2008 at 2:29 pm
(3) Ashe says:

I think that satire and even mockery is OK. I have some digital images I’ve made that are rude mockery of christian religion. That is, in my opinion, an important point: I respect people only-human beings- but I am not obligated to respect religious doctrines or institutions. Those are the ones I try to ridicule: the doctrines, hoping that the viewer gets shocked and think about it.

February 28, 2008 at 3:12 pm
(4) Ray says:

Yes, I agree with Ashe: people have a right to be treated with common courtesy, decency and afforded basic human dignity, AS PEOPLE. I try to treat all people the same, as far as my behavior toward them, and like to be treated similarly in return. That includes leaving people alone to believe whatever foolishness they desire … UNTIL they start spouting it off as truth, at which time it is appropriate to challenge the IDEAS being presented, without attacking the person. Granted, some people are inexorably attached to their superstitions and take it quite personally if their ideas are challenged.

February 28, 2008 at 10:18 pm
(5) John Weldon says:

Assuming you live in America, or other “free” countries we have the right to say whatever we want. With excussions of things like yelling “fire!” in your local movie theatre or other simular things. When Christians lose their cool over something that is said contrary to their beliefs, we have to remind ourselfs that it’s what should be expected of someone who does not believe in God. Don’t let it bother us. It doesn’t affect or Faith one bit. I think both sides of the agruments should remember why we are debating/discussing it in the 1st place. We want to show others why we believe what we believe. When you get to the point of name calling, or riducule both sides lose the ear of the other side. Sometimes it might be easy to say something hurtful, but the better, higher ground would be to stick to the facts and philosphies of the sides.

Over the past 3 days I have left comments here and I’ve gotten some, and I’ve also responded back with some. I’ve learned that I’m no where near educated enough to battle with the level that most of you are on. I don’r spend perhaps the time you do in research. I just simply have faith.

If I’m right then OK things will be great for me one day in Heaven, if I’m wrong, what have I lost? I’ve tried to be a good father, husband. Lived a life with great friends and I couldn’t be more happy. I have the same result as an atheist.

But what if you are wrong?

I pray that you will not give up the debate for yourself. I don’t know you, nor do I have the right to judge you, this last few days has been fun, a learning experience for me. I have resolved to look into both sides deeper with as fair mind as possible, and then I will decide from their, do I still just rely on faith…

February 29, 2008 at 6:18 am
(6) Austin Cline says:

If Iím right then OK things will be great for me one day in Heaven, if Iím wrong, what have I lost?

Pascal’s Wager, addressed and refuted multiple times over.

Iíve learned that Iím no where near educated enough to battle with the level that most of you are on.

The intellectually honest thing to do would be to retract assertions which you can’t or won’t support.

February 29, 2008 at 9:46 am
(7) 411314 says:

Hello?

February 29, 2008 at 8:12 pm
(8) John Hanks says:

Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Most religion hardly deserves the name. It is the preoccupation of a 14 year old. Standing up to such childish nonsense is a boon for everyone.

February 29, 2008 at 10:50 pm
(9) Ron says:

John Weldon (Over the past 3 days I have left comments here and Iíve gotten some, and Iíve also responded back with some. Iíve learned that Iím no where near educated enough to battle with the level that most of you are on. I donít spend perhaps the time you do in research. I just simply have faith.) You are probably more educated than me. Grade 8. But I have a question. If simlpy had faith in any particular thing, why would I need to research?

March 2, 2008 at 3:40 pm
(10) Zack says:

I just simply have faith. — Comment by John Weldon ó February 28, 2008 @ 10:18 pm

How did you decide which ideas you should have faith in?

March 2, 2008 at 3:46 pm
(11) John Stalberg says:

I come to think about an analogy that I see as a problem here in Europe and very much in Sweden were I live. As you probably know there been a lot of debate about pictures of Muhammed, the muslim prophet, painted as a dog. A few days ago there were a TV-program on one of Sweden’s public service channels with the artist behind the pictures and a Swedish muslim, sort of representing other muslims living here in Sweden. Focus were as usual toward if the pictures were justified when many muslims felt offended by them. The muslim expressed this and were focused on this. It struck me that there were something wrong with this focus. The artist behind the art now lives with a death threat hanging over him and even if he handles this well doesn’t mean other people should take such things easily. The focus on the poor muslim being offended became somewhat disgusting and I came to think about the famous word being said a couple of hundred years earlier in France: ‘I do not agree with what you are saying but I’m willing to offer my life for your right to say it’.

It seems to exist some sort of tabu around religious questions that makes important and fundamental freedoms we often take for granted suddenly less important. When someone is threaten to life for making art that is provoking, the by law granted freedom to speak is in danger. That must be prioritized over the fact that some peoples feelings might be hurt by the pictures. If freedom to speak becomes crippled because of fear for being physically hurt we all know that much more than feelings are at stake. How come this weren’t noticed in this debate?

November 26, 2009 at 12:06 pm
(12) Frank says:

Before Polls ask if they believe in god they should ask to them if they go to religious church every week. I they believe in their faith they would do what it says out of fear or they don’t believe. Should they respect the faithful by saying they don’t believe and also to by fair. Do they lie then repent and never do it again. All sin are equal and nobody can live up to it.

May 3, 2012 at 4:39 pm
(13) P Smith says:

Atheists are only upsetting the apple cart because it’s full of rotten apples. If it had fruit worth eating, we’d be sampling from it.

The strongest argument is the one that withstands the most questions. The weakest arguments are those that try to prevent questions – usually, by force and deceit.

The only reason for religion to fear questioning and mockery is because its position is a fraud and a lie. If it had merit, it would welcome the words of atheists.

.

May 4, 2012 at 2:56 pm
(14) Larry says:

No atheists shouldn’t be quiet; Christians and atheists can hold a meaningful dialogue without anyone getting “hot under the collar.” Part of being human is be willing to learn and grow as a person, narrow mindedness or closed mindedness is useless, it stifles one’s growth.

May 4, 2012 at 3:24 pm
(15) tsahpina says:

i am an arrogant radical hard core atheist. as such andeven before i get such in practice,in deed,i get inslulted for not beleiving in god. i understand them. my saying to them that theres no gos is as good as my saying to them they are cowardly and fools. which i think they are,but i dont tell them that. i just tell them not that i think theres no god but simply that theres no god. i do this because they dont tell me they think theres god but that there is god.so i answer that thers no god. and some of them are not so stupid. they understand the in between the lines text. which reads that i think of them as stupid for believing in something that isnt there. i agree with the author of the article,is it austin,that we should ridicule them if not for any better reason,then because they first ridicule us. i have never told anyone that theres no god first. they are always first to say somethig about god as a matter of fact. they have no idea that this is a question for discussion,if there is or there is no god. they assueme there is. they would never REALLY discuss this question with an educated informed atheist cos they do not apply logic in their ‘thinking’. so they deserve ridicule and i excercise it as much as i can without jeoperdizing myself. and this is often,both ridiculing and some jeoperdizin,forgive me for my modest knowledge of english,my wellbeing.and this is anothr issue,as a consequence of satire and ridiculing of the believers. they can become hostile to someone who is telling them straight to their face that their beloved god simply does not exist.i have been in direct danger when a man i was having coffee with suddenly realized i didnt believe in god.he was a fanatic and had hge wooden cross on his open shurt hairy chest. he took my nonbelief personally an i with trouble saved myself.i am more careful now but no bleiver can shut ME up.lol

May 4, 2012 at 5:07 pm
(16) Donald says:

Never. Christians may believe they are special, but there is nothing extraordinary about them that any individual or group can’t also claim. Perhaps, politicians and their well-heeled mentors should start paying attention to non-believers and skeptics because it is a significant voting group and COULD be a kingmaker with proper organizing. No, Christians need to wake up to reality. We are all free to believe as we please but supposition never ever trumps fact. With Christianity in the US sitting at just over 70%, Protestantism no longer the majority and over 100 million unchurched in the country, perhaps, smelling the coffee is too late. Maybe they just need to wake up! Of those 100 million unchurched, evangelical researcher George Barna doesn’t see Christianity recovering even a fourth.

May 4, 2012 at 6:46 pm
(17) OldFuzz says:

Skeptics can say what they choose, but it would help if they read a bit of Christian scholarship–which is more upsetting to fundamentalist Christians than skeptical commentary–especially any of the Westar Institute Fellows: Crossan, Borg, Cupitt, Geering, Funk, Armstrong and most recently Spong;s Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World to understand the variety of views within Chirstianity. Too often the skeptical view is of a rational mindset, assuming an agreed view within Christianity.

May 4, 2012 at 10:04 pm
(18) Austin Cline says:

Skeptics can say what they choose, but it would help if they read a bit of Christian scholarship

Can you provide any reason to think that they don’t?

May 4, 2012 at 7:27 pm
(19) Shuggy says:

I am tired of polls that put words into my mouth. As the bible says, “Let your aye be aye and your nay be nay.” What if you agree or disagree with the poll question, but not for the reason spelt out in the answer? These discussions should go in the prior question, not the poll options. This seems to come from a misguided desire to make poll questions more interesting.

May 4, 2012 at 8:01 pm
(20) Brian Cameron says:

When Christians (and other religions) stop being homophobic and stop teaching creationism (ignoring the weight of evidence for evolution), maybe then we can stop being so critical. As it stands now, no religion deserves special treatment.

May 4, 2012 at 8:14 pm
(21) Yiam Cross says:

Well I’m glad someone thinks we need people to point out loudly and at every available opportunity that the nonsense called religion has no useful function in this world. I’m there.

In fact I think we have a duty to make sure we go out with the intention of finding believers and letting them know in no uncertain terms exactly why they should reconsider their position and harm they do by continuing to waste thier time and energy on imaginary gods. For those who refuse to listen, there is always mocking. They deserve it.

May 4, 2012 at 8:25 pm
(22) Daz says:

To ridicule and condemn out of hand does no service to the person making the argument or expressing the views.

Allowing the pronouncements of unevidenced beings to govern one’s behaviour is ridiculousóquite literally, worthy of ridicule. Sure, we can vary the strength of the ridicule to match the level of the ridiculousness, but we should still call the ridiculous out as what it is: ridiculous.

May 4, 2012 at 8:44 pm
(23) Vivian says:

I will stop making negative comments about Christians when people stop making derogatory comments about Jews.

May 4, 2012 at 9:38 pm
(24) Cammy says:

The problem I have with many atheist Americans is that they’re really vocal when it comes to ridiculing Christians, but for the most part they leave Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, etc. alone. I’ve never heard an atheist rudely tell a Sikh he should lose the turban because hey, that would be pretty rude, wouldn’t it? Why do atheists only (or mostly) focus on upsetting Christians?

I’m an atheist, by the way. I don’t think one should ever be rude to strangers without provocation. Debate and criticize ideology all the way — you can do that without resorting to rudeness.

What good does it serve us to be rude to complete strangers? I’d like to know why the author of this article thinks being rude will get us anywhere.

May 4, 2012 at 9:59 pm
(25) Austin Cline says:

The problem I have with many atheist Americans is that they’re really vocal when it comes to ridiculing Christians, but for the most part they leave Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, etc. alone.

Since when? I’m guessing you’ve spent almost no time around atheists or reading what they have to say.

Debate and criticize ideology all the way — you can do that without resorting to rudeness.

For some, criticizing their ideology is rude.

What good does it serve us to be rude to complete strangers?

Do you make the same objection in political contexts, like about political cartoons?

I’d like to know why the author of this article thinks being rude will get us anywhere.

Satire and ridicule are staples of politics and culture in the West going back millennia. I’d like to know where you’ve lived all your life not to know that little fact.

May 5, 2012 at 12:53 am
(26) Barry Johnstone. says:

To all theists EVERYWHERE! Do NOT expect a smooth ride for philosophy based on B/S, myths and fairy tales! GET REAL!

May 5, 2012 at 7:19 am
(27) Amos M. Capps says:

Some people, such as Pat Robertson and Gerry (glad you’re dead, you rascal, you) Falwell, are so nasty and evil that ad hominem is quite ok. Their whole message is ad hominem to anyone not just like them.

Asking us to stop ad hominem attacks on the worst Christians is a betrayal of heroes like Jessica Ahlquist.

May 5, 2012 at 12:45 pm
(28) trog69 says:

As to who benefits from non-believers confronting religious beliefs, it’s the fence-sitters. The semi-theists, who think there “probably” is a god, since that’s what has been drilled into their heads since they were children. It’s also becoming a strong wake-up call for theologists and ministers who are having doubts about their faith, and reading reasoned and logical arguments against the theist’s beliefs is enough to push them to finally confront something that is, and really should be, a most important facet of their lives.

May 5, 2012 at 4:21 pm
(29) Graham aka greyhound1405 says:

Sorry to sound rude, but somebody must make the liberal Christians understand that the fundamentalist Christians are trying to take over the world in much the same way as fundamentalists Muslims are also.

Their (fundy) justification is that the bible is literally true and every word is to be taken literally, which at least liberal Christians understand is not true. This Bronze age ‘holy’ book is used (as it has been in every age) to promote horrendous acts. Anyone who doesn’t believe that the Bible is not the cherry picked nice stuff they hear at Church, but actually a dreadful book to recommend morals in the 21st Century, should look at http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com

The fundies are trying to infiltrate into politics as though they are the ‘truth’ and if everyone else doesn’t like it then they can leave!

They also infiltrate into education, trying to discredit proper science so that they can get their ‘fairy tale’ creation myth accepted as fact. Each Religion has its own different creation myth, none of which stand up to the facts as proven by science.

Last but not least the fundies interfere in peoples personal lives, especially sexual! They try to impose their religious guilt onto all they come into contact with. Breeding hatred wherever they go.

Now, if Liberal Christians criticised these dreadful behaviours, then there would be no need for atheists to get so worked up about them.
So liberals do the job that we don’t want to do but have to.

We will tolerate any religion that leaves us alone and keeps their religion to themselves. Simples…

May 5, 2012 at 8:42 pm
(30) piero says:

What’s the point of these polls? By now any webmaster worth his salt should now that a poll like this will be pharyngulated (if you don’t know what that means, you should never attempt to publish an online poll ever again).

You see, people who read Pharyngula actually care about such issues, whereas nominal Christians don’t. Most of them don’t care about anything at all, actually, except (probably) about their families and about how to make more money.

A humble suggestion: stop making these inane polls. Nobody can resist the unstoppable force of an army of high-morale, well-disciplined pharyngulites.

May 6, 2012 at 8:46 am
(31) Borsia says:

“With excussions of things like yelling ďfire!Ē in your local movie theatre or other simular things.” (John Weldon #5)
This is exactly what the religions, especially Christians, are doing.
They are screaming “repent the end is near and all who don’t follow our belief are going to hell.” They then infer that we need to bend over backward to accommodate them or we are somehow silencing them.
They claim that they have a right to come knocking on our doors, both figuratively and literally, while an atheist doing the same thing, which we don’t, would stand a good chance of being shot at or at least having the dogs unleashed on us.

Have you heard the good news? You don’t need to cower in fear and live under false promises about a mythical being who sees all and will punish you for being human!!!

If religions did a halfway decent job of policing themselves there would be less reason for atheists to do it or to be so verbal about calling them out.
But they not only don’t challenge or test the bad claims they consciously hide the obvious lies and contrivances.
The countless “artifacts” that mysteriously pop up hundreds or even thousands of years out of the, foggy at best, past are virtually always called genuine or at the least probable but not provable.
When any of these things are proven to be false or even outright fraud the religious are silent, or worse challenge the evidence against the claim no matter how obvious it is.

The recent discovery of a burial chamber was immediately claimed to be proof of Jesus’s story, even though it would mean nothing if it were proven to have some sort of Christian markings and obviously far less if it doesn’t.
Did the churches of the world point this out?

Atheist have to be loud and call to task anyone making wild claims about gods and demons because nobody else will!

May 8, 2012 at 12:22 pm
(32) Pat says:

I chose to be atheist about 40 years ago, and I was an active Christian before that–so I can relate a little to both sides.

When you talk about Christianity you’re talking about a national institution which has been here since the beginning. You’re talking about a belief which almost everyone passes on to their children. And you’re talking about people who teach their children about Santa, Tooth Fairy and then dress them up as ghouls and goblins. A lot of you may be guilty if this nonsense also.

You don’t fix things like this by getting in the mud and wrestling around with them. If you want to do any good you have to work against the institution, not the individuals. And when you talk to people, with civility, you have to address this subject with the knowledge that what they believe was taught to them when they were children–it’s ingrained. What they believe is part of their identity, it is part of their self image. It takes tact and intelligence to do this well.

Satire and ridicule may be part of politics and culture, but that doesn’t mean you have to stoop low enough to use it. Actually these are common tactics somewhere…oh yeah, elementary playgrounds.

There is nothing wrong with good people and their religion. There are problems with religion in politics. Attack it at the root–hacking at the branches will do no good. And it makes you no different than them.

May 8, 2012 at 1:48 pm
(33) M says:

If Christianity was an island unto itself so that their faith was only a for their adherents and adults came to it with an informed opinion of it then I would say it is something that an atheist would be wise to ignore. That isn’t what’s going on. Bigots and scammers and people who abuse children and those who holds back scientific progress and sexists and the cruel often hide behind their faith. All too often they are right about the bible’s support of their behavior. That good people chose to ignore the worst of the horrors the bible advocates is to their credit but that progress only came about because those beliefs were challenged in the past and they didn’t stand up against common human decency.

I can challenge their beliefs when those beliefs come from works which support such clearly reprehensible acts as slavery, mass murder, child abuse, bigotry, torture, and the mistreatment of women. I can challenge their beliefs when I live in a nation almost entirely run by people who claim to follow Christian teachings. I can challenge those beliefs because all beliefs worth holding should be challenged and able to withstand a challenge.

May 12, 2012 at 7:10 am
(34) Sally says:

“…really vocal when it comes to ridiculing Christians, but for the most part they leave Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, etc. alone.”

Hey, I’m quite happy to excoriate hindus who rape lesbians to ‘cure’ them, while the Indian Minister for Culture fulminates that lesbianism is a ‘disgraceful affront’ to the hindu religion.

I’m happy to spit on sikhs in the UK who burn their daughters alive for daring to go out with a non-sikh.

And, as for muslims, I just commented on Austins story about an Iranian ayatollah who called us ‘dogs and pigs’ that “I saw [the ayatollah] this morning … then I pressed the button and flushed it!”

I am quite happy to sling mud at any religion, especially when it uses invisible friends to excuse barbarism.

May 13, 2012 at 6:26 pm
(35) dew says:

Type sally type, what a view I think all of us really like you. loved it thank you. I think the greatest fear for them (priests) is losing their iron grip over uneducated people who are disperate for answers and the unknown factor of death, and how these people think they(priest) know the answers is a mystery, just have the people request them to pave the way by entering and giving their lifes up first as a testament to their belief and if these priest are what they say they are agents of some god then why cannot that god talk to all and verify all what they say is true. They use guilt and blasphemy =shut your mouth, the lose of a payday check. I’m not a believer or a believer without an absolute no answer can be found. The survival of our species is in danger of extinction if we don’t stop all this nonsense. They(both teams) ask to be favored over a ball game as if this god is flippin’ a coin or makin’ a bet.

May 22, 2012 at 11:30 am
(36) Grandpa_In_The_East says:

To the question, “What good does it serve us to be rude to complete strangers?”

I noticed in myself when I was younger and had relatives living, that this saved me from hurting someone I loved.

Any more questions?

Grandpa

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