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The Boston Atheists Meetup Group Message Board › Atheism just a "comedy of buffoonery"

Atheism just a "comedy of buffoonery"

James C.
user 11245398
Saint Louis, MO
Post #: 2
Dennis writes: "And since that is not SIMPLY what we're doing there is no problem! If people are offended that is no reason to suggest offense was intended. Further, if offense IS intended, depending upon context it may well be the proper response! Folks; it is OK (and effective) to be offensive. Get over it."

I'm glad we agree that we must do more than criticize. I'm not sure I agree that purposely giving offense is all that effective. From my reading of the literature around decision-making and changing people's minds, offending people frequently closes down dialogue and forces them into a defensive position, rather than opening opportunitis for change. This does not mean, of course, that it is not "OK" to give offense - simply that it is not always (and perhaps not even often) effective.
Boston, MA
Post #: 2
After reading through all the posts and especially with reference to Dennis and Jennifer's comments, I feel there is merit on both sides.
On the one hand, the atheists have been the bullied / demonised lot for too long. Considering how the religious have reacted to the rational, reasoned and matured viewpoints of the atheists, it is indeed important to be more aggressive towards bigotry and zealotry, superstitious mumbo-jumbo and organized religion in general.
However, on the other hand, one of the most important distinction between believers and non-believers is in the inclusiveness of non-belief. Since we have no god, we have no "gods own", hence we are not "holier than thou". As in science, so in a scientific reasoned view of life, no knowledge is absolute and perfect. So, shoving our views down other peoples throats is anathema to the atheists, even if we are correct. It is important to keep that attitude alive too - otherwise, we will become what we are fighting - (atheist) zealots fighting (theistic) zealotry. And if that ever happens - we cannot even say "god help us" ... cause he does not exist!
Zachary B.
Boston, MA
Post #: 127
And since that [bashing religion] is not SIMPLY what we're doing there is no problem!
Indeed, we do far more than observe the (by now banal) truth that religion contains in it elements that are harmful as well as superfluous and untrue. Most of my activism on behalf of rationalism takes the form of making spaghetti dinners for BA members seeking fellowship around a common table... breaking bread, and so on, being so essentially human and so pleasantly filling.

All best,

A former member
Post #: 3
I'm sorry that we appear to agree. Let me try to be clearer.

Every progressive movement goes thru this. If you've been involved with them for the past 200 years or so you start to notice something. Some examples:

---It is 1988 and Mike Dukakis has squandered a 30 point lead in the polls, now virtually certain to lose the election to George Bush Sr. Appearing on Nightline, he is asked by Ted Koppel why he failed to respond forcefully -- for months & months, countless campaign appearances -- when Bush accused him of being (heaven forbid) a liberal, and a "card-carrying member of the ACLU" (gasp!). The Duke answers that he doesn't want to stoop to that level, people don't want that kind of blah blah, blah......, at which point Koppel looks at him and says "You just don't get it, do you Governor!" He goes on to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, losing to a weak Republican candidate by being weaker.

And the meme goes on... the meme goes on.... drums keep poundin' a rhythm to my ears.....

---A liberal congressman comes along who speaks his mind and takes no prisoners, and becomes a national sensation, with donors rushing to fill his coffers and a website -- http://www.congressma...­ -- clearly pointing out how unusual it is that a liberal has guts!

la di da di dee.....

I gave the example in an earlier post about the Obama win, made possible only because the cons ran us into the ditch, and subsequent time wasted attempting to reassure the people who ruined the country that we wanted to --- work with them.

la di da di da....... (apologies to Sonny & Cher)

Countless times in my personal life I have gained respect facing down fundys (in their nests!), debating hardcore cons, & getting into it when outnumbered, as when I debated my 7th grade class - and teacher - about the existence of god. Slink away quietly because I'm a minority?! But I'm right! Yet all my life I was told by enlightened folks not to make trouble, don't offend, you'll never get anywhere.

Here is the interesting part: you have a movement that is pro-science, and reason & evidence based, and they unthinkingly swallow a silly meme about being nice in spite of evidence right before their eyes that a more strident & confrontational approach (another instance of right behavior only forced out of us by the extreme dumbing down of the Bush years) has raised our profile like no other time!

We think that part of being progressive is to be above that mean stuff. So we let the side willing to play rough run off with the culture --- time -- after -- time. Reminds me of that derisive definition of a liberal as "a person who won't take their own side in an argument."

At every big strategy meeting, you can expect like clockwork that someone will get up and start in with the "I really don't think we should, you know, be so.....", or you get endless discussion and overemphasis on how some chat group offended members.... puh leeese! We just love the nitpicking!

It is considered a sign of enlightenment to be both sensitive to offending, and chronically offended!

Like true believers, we just don't care about evidence! We know that it's right to be nice, so therefore we know it works.....even if it doesn't. Time after time. Doesn't matter if we get a little success; we don't even notice how it happened. When the crafty opponent, having no chance to overcome the force of our arguments, turns -- as they always do -- to pointing out how mean we are, we freekin' agree with them!! Never mind that in most cases it is nothing more than the very idea that we have assertively taken on the debate that is considered offensive!

This is why the progressive movement only gets its chances at extremely difficult times. Left to our own self-defeating -- well-intentioned -- and factually wrong -- devices, we are usually, and deservedly, marginalized.

It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.
Mark Twain

James C.
user 11245398
Saint Louis, MO
Post #: 3
Dennis, I respectfully suggest you read my post again and see if I say anything that you actually disagree with. You seem to be equating a "forceful presentation of a view" with "giving offense". I fully and entirely support the first (take a look at some of my work at, and am skeptical regarding the second. I would say that Obama's victory, which was based to a significant degree on the construction of an inclusive narrative which brought together traditionally fragmented groups, is an example of the sort of thing I am advocating for. In short, you are mischaracterizing my position somewhat.
A former member
Post #: 6
I would like to address the Mother Teresa issue; it's obviously very sensitive to many, but it's a great example of the gap between two extremes. First let me say that I was brought up Catholic, so I realize the sensitivity; I understand that calling her out for her missions has shock value, but it's also an eye opener. Maybe some bring it up to insult or rattle the cages of others...that has its value and purpose.

More to my point, I believe it takes time for people, like myself (raised in a church), to get to point where we could criticize someone like Mother Teresa without feeling enormous guilt, or some general wrong doing. That being said, I'm at that point...I agree that she was misguided and used by the church and her message is just wrong and has brought much harm to millions. But, if we are to understand discussion sensitivity it would be best not to have a conversation with someone who is a current, faithful Catholic (for example) and start in by slamming Mother Teresa. The obvious response will be for that person to get very defensive....not very productive. I would hope the point to any discussion would be to get the other side to reach the point where they question what they've taken as fact via faith, tradition, religion etc...Remembering that this took time for most of us would be beneficial; and, by "us" I mean people who were brought up in a faith and had to break away from the brainwashing/ didn't happen overnight.

That doesn't mean that writers, and other public figures can't attack such people with all they've anyone views this is up to them, but freedom of speech is one factor, and, personally, I like to see extreme and obvious public figures called out no matter how controversial the subject/topic. Extreme examples drive home points...opens up serious points of discussion to this. A Catholic hearing Mother Teresa attacked is going to have to think at some point, and maybe this will open their eyes to all missionary work...weaken their brainwashing possibly.

My main point here is to realize what your goal is, what is the goal of Dawkins, Hitchens, you in a cafe etc...who you are talking to. I would hope the goal is to make people think about the consequences of their blind themselves, family, society...There are different methods and not all are so's a delicate subject and "nice" doesn't always work, and even if you are nice they may not perceive it as such.

P.S. on Dawkins: I'm not sure of the incidents on his website...I read many of his books and watch all of his debates, lectures...but, I don't look to him, or anyone, for "leadership", so I don't judge them in such a way. I sense a bit of a trend here, perhaps I'm off, but these people are just Humans...full of flaws, thankfully. I disagree with a lot of their points...if I didn't I would be alarmed. Just because some people are more public than others doesn't mean that we should make the same mistakes as we do with our politicians and other public figures...put them on a pedestal while placing everything they do under a microscope. We'd be making the same mistakes as religions with their leaders...a slippery slope to idol worship. Just a thought and I'm not addressing anyone in particular...just a few points I glossed over without knowing all the details, admittedly.
A former member
Post #: 7
I have to weigh in more on the "forceful presentation" versus "giving offense" debate.

I liken it to the "in your face" politics of some gay rights activists versus the steadfast yet non-offensive politics of other gay right activists. Example: guerilla gay bar events. In case you don't know, this is an organized movement in which gays "crash" a well-known straight bar in large numbers. The concept is to force the straight community to accept gays as a part of life.

But does it accomplish this? Or does it just give fuel for homophobes to use in future arguments?

Integration is a wonderful concept, but guerilla gay bars are not about that; they are a purposeful takeover. How does this help to make straight people realize that gays are just like them, worthy of respect and equal rights?

Likewise with porn for bibles. First, not all atheists are pro-porn, so it's not an accurate representation of the population. Second, the bible is not the equivalent of porn, if that is the point of this endeavor (which I am assuming it is). Aesop's Fables, yes, but porn? People are so immediately turned off by porn that you instantly lose the point you are trying to make.

You could write the best speech in the world, but if you stand at the podium in a Nazi outfit while delivering it, you will lose most of your audience.

And that segues nicely into Dawkins. It's not that we're looking to Dawkins or Hitchens for leadership, it's that, by becoming so successful in the literary world and the conference circuit, they have inadvertently become spokespeople for atheists. We didn't ask them to do this and they didn't ask for this, but it has happened nonetheless, and if they do not have decent PR people who can ensure that their public image is respectable, they will inadvertently do damage for the whole population. That's just the reality of the situation.

This is kind of a war, and we really need to be very careful and meticulous in every step we take.
A former member
Post #: 4
Dennis, I respectfully suggest you read my post again and see if I say anything that you actually disagree with.

What I disagree with is more what you didn't say than what you said. I write about the need for an aggressive and confrontational response to superstition, indeed the factual success of it, and your take-away is about the area of agreement on which I wrote dismissively at best. My emphasis was entirely on the justification for either offending or appearing to offend; that we can agree on so unremarkable a point as that we must do more than criticize -- I'm unaware of anyone who'd think otherwise -- is beside the point.

You seem to be equating a "forceful presentation of a view" with "giving offense".

Actually, this gets at the problem, but not because I equate the two. I contend that believers & countless atheists have internalized the notion that criticizing ideas is offensive. Historically there has been unwarranted deference for the religious view; hearing their beliefs described as utterly without merit is hard for the faithful, especially from those who had never been deferential, and thus have no tone of apology in their voices.

I would say that Obama's victory, which was based to a significant degree on the construction of an inclusive narrative which brought together traditionally fragmented groups, is an example of the sort of thing I am advocating for.

Pretty good illustration of my point; progressives, just like true believers, find their faith in their interpretation of events. Of far greater significance than some "inclusive narrative" from the Obama camp is the inclusive narrative from the cons: they so disaffected large numbers of their own, so mobilized the opposition, so pushed the fence-sitters to the other side, and put forth such preposterously bad candidates that this country was willing to consider (gasp!) a woman or a black man to be the next pres!

Delighted as I am that it happened, I am not among those buying the happy fiction that something wonderful we did was the primary cause of our success. AND, given the lame attempts at bipartisanship, weak leadership on health care & financial regulation, inviting Rick Warren(!) to do the "convocation", allowing the cons to control the message, and failing to legislate with majorities greater than Republicans needed, we show the deficiencies of the "be-inclusive" style.

The meme goes on....
A former member
Post #: 5
and if they do not have decent PR people who can ensure that their public image is respectable, they will inadvertently do damage for the whole population. That's just the reality of the situation.

The reality of the situation, whether you like their style or not, is that they have had huge bestselling books and have been THE major cause of the surge in recognition of the reality-based community! Now, I could say something about how there are many voices, many ways to approach conflict, from rude face-offs to finding common ground, all of which can and do work, but the FACT is that it was the voices of people like Dawkins and Hitchens who lit the fire as none before them had.

Again, no matter the evidence, a preconceived "faith", a preferred approach about how something should be done holds sway. Because it's, you know, nice!


This is kind of a war, and we really need to be very careful and meticulous in every step we take.
OK. I'm gonna go out and kick some butt in this war, and leave the hand-wringing to others.
A former member
Post #: 8
I think you misunderstand me, Dennis. I concur that Dawkins and Hitchens had a huge impact on the atheist movement, for lack of a better phrase. In fact, it's central to my argument: they wouldn't need to worry about public image if they did not have such a big impact.

So now the crater is there and the world is looking at it; we have to make sure they continue to look at it, and maybe even take a few steps down into it. This is when we need to take the time to assess what the best tactics are and not just plow full-speed ahead unthinkingly (IMHO, the bible/porn debacle falls into the latter category).

OK. I'm gonna go out and kick some butt in this war, and leave the hand-wringing to others.

I think this is the big difference between the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State. We should keep in mind that they're both working for the same team.
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