How Atheists Can't Win

This piece was originally published on AlterNet.

No win situation
In conversations between atheists and believers, is there any way atheists can win?

I’ve been in a lot of discussions and debates with religious believers in the last few years. And I’m beginning to notice a pattern. I’ve been noticing the ways that believers put atheists in no-win situations: the ways that, no matter what atheists do, we’ll be seen as either acting like jerks or conceding defeat.

Like so many rhetorical gambits aimed at atheists, these “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” tactics aren’t really valid criticisms of atheism. They really only serve to deflect valid questions and criticisms about religion. But they come up often enough that I want to spend a little time pointing them out. I want to spell out the exact ways that these “no-win” situations are both unfair and inaccurate. And I want to point out the general nature of this “no-win” pattern — in hopes that in future debates with atheists, believers will be more aware of them, and will play a little more fairly.

Pat robertson
When atheists focus our critiques on conservative or extremist religions, we get accused of ignoring the tolerant progressive ones, and lumping all religions together. But when we do criticize progressive or moderate religions, we’re accused of mean-spirited overkill, of alienating people who could be our allies.

Why this is untrue and unfair: It doesn’t make much sense to assume that the atheist critique of religion you’re reading that moment is the only atheist critique of religion this writer has ever come up with. Most atheist writers who criticize religion do so many times, and from many angles. We critique extremist fundamentalism, and moderate ecumenicalism. We critique specific religious beliefs and practices, and the general belief in the supernatural. It’s not “lumping all religions together” to point out the flaws and hypocrisies and evils committed by one in particular.

So if we’re writing about the harm done by gay-hating fundamentalism or the pedophile- enabling Catholic Church, please don’t complain that we’re “lumping all religions together.” We’re not talking about your religion. We did that last week.

And yes, we can criticize progressive religions and still be their allies on issues we agree on. Just like any movement can be critical of other movements and still work with them as allies.

Islam crescent moon star
When atheists criticize Christianity, we get accused of being cowards for not criticizing Islam. But when we criticize Islam, we get accused of cultural insensitivity.

Why this is untrue and unfair: And I say yet again: It’s neither fair nor reasonable to assume that the atheist critique you’re reading right that second is the only one this atheist has ever written. If an atheist is criticizing Christianity today, that doesn’t mean they didn’t criticize Islam last week.

Most American atheists do focus our attentions largely on Christianity — mainly because it’s the religion that’s most in our face on a daily basis. But I don’t know of any serious atheist writer who hasn’t criticized Islam. I certainly have. I’ve criticized Islam, Judaism, Mormonism, fundamentalist Christianity, progressive Christianity, Hinduism, Wicca, Baha’i, and that religion that worships a blue peacock. To name but a few.

As for cultural insensitivity in criticizing Islam… well, given how Islam and Islamic theocracies have historically treated women and gays, I’d call it culturally insensitive not to criticize it. I agree that some atheists can be racist, xenophobic jerks (especially on the Internet — the Internet does seem to bring the racist, xenophobic jerks out of the woodwork, from every group). But to slam as “culturally insensitive” any criticism of Islam as it’s widely and commonly practiced… that’s pretty freaking insensitive to the people who are victimized by it.

When atheists focus our critiques on ordinary religious beliefs held by the majority of people, we get accused of ignoring advanced modern theology and focusing on outdated beliefs that nobody takes seriously anymore. But when atheists do argue against modern theology, we get accused of elitism. What’s more, when we argue against Modern Theologian A, we’re accused of ignoring Modern Theologian B… and when we argue against Modern Theologian B, we’re accused of ignoring Modern Theologian C… in an infinite regress of movable goalposts.

Why this is untrue and unfair: Most atheist activists don’t care very much about religion as it’s practiced by a handful of modern theology scholars. If all religion were the religion of modern theology scholars… well, we still wouldn’t agree with it, but we probably wouldn’t bother putting much energy into arguing with it.

We care about religion as it’s believed and practiced by the overwhelming majority of people who believe it. By definition, those beliefs are not outdated. A belief in a personal interventionist creator god who answers prayers and doles out punishment and reward in the afterlife… that is not an outdated belief. It’s what most believers believe in. Even belief in faith healing, demonic possession, magical objects and substances… these are still widespread, around the country and around the world. Heck, nearly half of all Americans believe in young-earth Creationism. When atheists battle these beliefs, we are not fighting straw men. We are fighting real beliefs and practices, with real effects on people’s lives.

And as it happens, many atheists are familiar with modern theology. And we’re really not impressed. How much of it do we have to read before we’re allowed to conclude that it makes no sense?

Scarlet letter
When atheists attempt to present an organized, unified front, we get accused of being Stalinist group-think robots. But when we’re honest about disagreements among us, we get derided and dismissed for the supposed “schisms” that are supposedly dooming our movement to failure.

Why this is untrue and unfair: I am so tired of hearing about the “schisms” in the atheist movement, I could plotz. Look. We don’t have a central dogma or organization to split away from. We’re a diverse movement with lots of differences among us… and we don’t view that as a weakness. We view it as a great strength.

Besides… how does this make us different from any other movement for social change? In all of history, I can’t think of any other social change movement that hasn’t had internal disagreements: disagreements large and small, disagreements over minor tactics and over major values and goals. Sometimes movements set aside these differences to focus on what everyone agrees on; sometimes they focus on these differences and try to hammer them out. And sure, sometimes that hammering-out process results in pointless in-fighting… but sometimes it results in real progress.

And in particular, the difference between firebrand confrontationalists and polite diplomacists — the supposed “schism” in the atheist movement that the news media has been pissing itself over — has existed in every single social change movement I can think of. And while it can be a source of tension, it can also very much work in our favor — for the same reasons that every other social change movement in history has been able to play “good cop, bad cop” to their advantage.

The atheist
When atheists say we don’t believe in God, we’re told that we can’t possibly be moral people. But when we make our morality clear in word and deed, many believers insist that we must be spiritual or religious or following God unconsciously — even if we deny it.

Why this is untrue and unfair: Talk about an unfalsifiable hypothesis! If any act of morality gets seen as an act of spirituality by definition, is there any possible way atheists can prove that we genuinely don’t believe in God? Do we have to eat babies or push little old ladies in front of buses to prove that we’re not religious?

To say that ethical atheists must be motivated by religion is a classic case of assuming the thing you’re trying to prove. And it’s completely unfalsifiable: no possible evidence could show that it’s wrong. If atheists behave ethically, that somehow proves that we’re really religious; if we behave badly, it somehow proves that atheism is inherently bad and leads people away from morality. It couldn’t possibly be that atheists are just human beings — mixes of good and bad, some tilted more in one direction than others. And it couldn’t possibly be that our lack of belief in any sort of god is entirely sincere.

As long as we don’t know exactly how organic life began from non-life, then atheists’ conclusion that life almost certainly began as physical cause and effect will be called blind faith in materialism. But if we can replicate abiogenesis (the origins of life from non-life) in the laboratory — something that’s expected to happen in the next few years — this will be seen as proof that life had to be intentionally created. After all, it required people working in a lab for decades to make it happen!

Why this is untrue and unfair: This one drives me up a tree. The conclusion that life almost certainly began as a chemical process is not blind faith. It’s a reasonable conclusion based on the evidence. The overwhelming body of evidence supports the conclusion that life is a physical, biochemical process, developed into its current state of complexity and diversity by the natural process of evolution. It is reasonable to conclude that this phenomenon began as a physical, proto-biochemical process.

And when/ if abiogenesis does get replicated in the lab, that’s hardly proof that life had to be designed. I’m sorry, but that’s just silly. Natural processes get replicated in the lab all the time. We grow mold in Petri dishes — does that mean mold can’t occur naturally?

If atheists don’t offer specific arguments and evidence supporting atheism, we get told, “See? Atheism is just as much a matter of faith as religion.” But when we do provide evidence and arguments for our position, we get accused of proselytizing.

Why this is untrue and unfair: Sometimes when atheists write about atheism, we take God’s non-existence as a given. Like pretty much everyone else in the world, we don’t always want to discuss first principles; we sometimes want to move on to other topics, such as movement strategy, or the dissemination of critical thinking skills, or who’s the sexiest atheist. We’ve made the “God doesn’t exist” argument elsewhere, and we don’t want to recap it every single time. That doesn’t make atheism an article of faith. It makes it a conclusion that we’ve reached and are moving on from. (If you really want to know what our evidence and our arguments are for our non-belief, we can usually point you at something.)

As for the accusation that we’re proselytizing: All too often, the word “proselytizing” gets tossed around when what’s really meant is, “attempted persuasion by people I don’t agree with.” Persuasion is not proselytizing. And if you insist that it is, then you’ll have a hard time explaining what’s so bad about it.

Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there’s no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it’s just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses… and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it’s mistaken. It’s persuasion. It’s the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride?

If atheists admit that they can’t be 100% certain of God’s non-existence, believers pounce on that fragment of uncertainty, and atheism gets accused of being as much a matter of faith as religion. But if atheists insist that they are 100% certain that God does not exist (or as close to 100% certain as anyone can be), then believers pounce in that certainty… and atheism gets accused of being as much a matter of faith as religion.

Why this is untrue and unfair: This is one of my pet peeves. It’s just so transparently unfair. We don’t apply the “absolute 100% certainty” standard to any other type of conclusion. If we conclude that the cat is somewhere in the house even though we can’t see it, or that there isn’t a pink pony behind our sofa that teleports to Guam the minute we look back there, or that the earth is orbiting the sun, nobody insists that these conclusions are articles of faith just because there’s an infinitesimal hypothetical possibility that we might be wrong. These are seen as reasonable conclusions, based on the available evidence.

So when atheists say, “No, I’m not 100% sure that there is no God, there’s almost nothing that we can be 100% sure of — but so what, we can still make reasonable conclusions about what’s probable and plausible based on the available evidence, and all the evidence we have now points to God not existing, so I feel confident in rejecting the God hypothesis unless I see better evidence”… that doesn’t make our atheism an article of faith. And when other atheists say, “Yes, I’m 100% sure that there is no God: the fragment of hypothetical possibility that God exists is so insignificant that it’s not even worth considering, I’m 100% certain that there are no leprechauns or unicorns — or as close to 100% as anyone could reasonably expect — and I see no reason to treat God any differently”… then again, that doesn’t make their atheism an article of faith.

The only thing that would make atheism a true article of faith would be if atheists said, “Nothing you could possibly say, nothing I could possibly see or experience, no evidence you could possibly provide me, could ever convince me that my atheism was wrong. My belief in the non-existence of God is an a priori assumption: it is unshakable, as constant as the Northern Star.” And I have yet to encounter an atheist who says that.

Finally — and maybe most crucially of all:

Speech balloon
When we speak out in any way about our atheism — and when we continue to organize, and to make ourselves and our ideas more visible and vocal, and to generally turn ourselves into a serious movement for social change — we get accused of being hostile, fanatical, rude, evangelical, bigoted, and extremist.

But if we don’t speak out, if we don’t organize, if we don’t forge ourselves into a powerful and visible movement… then the bigotry and misinformation and discrimination against us will continue unabated.

Why this is untrue and unfair: We really can’t win on this one. Even the most mild forms of atheist activism and visibility result in believers accusing us of disrespect, intolerance, and forcing our beliefs on others. If we do something as mild and unthreatening as putting up bus ads saying “You can be good without God” or “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone,” you can bet good money that plenty of believers will get worked up about how those terrible atheists are insulting Christians and other believers. The purest act of visibility — the simple act of standing up and saying out loud, “Atheists exist and are good people” — gets treated as another example of the offensive, dogmatic, in-your-face extremism of the atheist movement.

But here’s the skinny:

There has never once been a marginalized group who has won recognition and rights by sitting back and waiting politely for it to happen. There has never once been a marginalized group who has won recognition and rights by doing anything other than speaking out, organizing, making themselves visible and vocal. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

So you’ll have to forgive us if we take the accusations of our offensive, dogmatic, in-your-face extremism with something of a grain of salt. You’ll have to forgive us if we listen to the concerned advice from believers about how our confrontational tactics are alienating people and we need to dial it back… and respond by giving it the horse laugh, and continuing to do what we’ve so successfully been doing. You’ll have to forgive us if we treat the attempts to quiet us down as attempts to shut us up.

If you have a valid critique of a particular atheist or atheist idea, by all means, speak up. And if you have what you think is a valid critique of the atheist movement as a whole, we’d be interested to hear about it. We’re not perfect, and we don’t claim to be.

Silence means security
But please make sure your criticisms are fair. Please make sure your criticisms don’t just put us into a rhetorical box, where we can’t win no matter what we do. Please make sure your criticisms are a genuine attempt to engage with atheists and the atheist movement… and not just an attempt to stop the conversation and make us go away.

Thanks to Jesse, Jennifer, Tom, Tinna, Other Tom, Other Jennifer, Aaron, Shawn, Jon, Justin, James, Liz, and Robert for their help with this piece.

How Atheists Can't Win

35 thoughts on “How Atheists Can't Win

  1. 1

    I am a vocal skeptk and atheist.
    And was accused of picking on xtians. I told him i pick on all religions but especially xtians NOT because they believe in g0d but because they continue to shovel their schite down my throat in terms of legislation and law and bigotry.
    This is a great post and WE will never win the ‘argument’ because the religious have something we cannot battle….Intense blinding absolute FEAR!!! of everything but mostly about death and what they imagine comes after. We have no satisfactory (for them) answer to that fear so they will never give in to tolerance of us as we remind them of their delusion. If they had the courage to face their fear they would not be religious or at least not in the same way they are now.

  2. 3

    Regarding who to go after – what about hitting liberal Christians from the right? The conservative Christians wouldn’t object until they figured out what was going on (and even then might appreciate help in those few areas where atheists and conservative Christians do agree, like Islam), and the liberal Christians aren’t used to arguing in favor of the existence of God with a conservative on the other side. “Fundamentalist” as a subset of “conservative” is so ingrained in the liberal psyche that a liberal Christian arguing with a conservative atheist would tie themselves in a knot.
    Heck, it might even net a few conservatives. Those who have been raised to blindly obey don’t really understand the basis of their belief system, and are (comparatively) easy pickings to convert – that’s who the cults go after. The key, which cults use, is to present the message in a familiar cultural context (i.e., don’t challenge the audience’s assumptions). Somebody who has been raised to blindly obey rather than being taught *why* they should do something generally can’t tell the difference between two such arguments. Now, getting there – that requires setting up a situation where the religious guys fail, an objective, practical situation of immediate, real-life importance to the audience (the so-called “loss of faith”). Obviously, that’s situational and can’t be done through an impersonal medium.
    But – I’m sure you’ve thought of this before. I’m interested in why it wouldn’t work, based on your experience.

  3. 6

    There was another one recently that I saw in a post on Cuttlefish’s blog: atheists get accused of having no morals, but when we put money towards public education and public outreach (like the FFRF’s billboards), we get asked why we’re not putting all our money and effort towards, say, earthquake relief in Haiti.
    This is a game we obviously can’t win – no matter what we do, apologists will ask why we’re not doing something else. Happily, most atheist groups show no inclination to play it. We should ignore the religious concern trolls and keep doing what we’re doing. The fact that they try so hard to dissuade us is itself evidence that we’re on the right course.

  4. 7

    There was another one recently that I saw in a post on Cuttlefish’s blog: atheists get accused of having no morals, but when we put money towards public education and public outreach (like the FFRF’s billboards), we get asked why we’re not putting all our money and effort towards, say, earthquake relief in Haiti.

    And the corollary: If we donate to charity via atheist groups, we get accused of doing it just for the attention and cred. But if we donate to charity through regular, non-atheist organizations, we perpetuate the idea that atheists don’t give to charity.
    You’re right, Ebon. No matter what we do, people will ask why we’re not doing something else. But I also think you’re right that we should just keep doing what we’re doing… as it seems to be working.

  5. 9

    There’s an interesting argumentative fallacy, which is to treat the group on the other side as being an individual, who can be criticized on the basis of inconsistency. (Note that “our side” is a diverse group, so the different arguments “we” make need not all be consistent, but reflect “our” glorious diversity.)
    You (the group of atheists) are certainly suffering from that fallacy, but you (the individual blogger) are also committing it. Certainly, as atheists criticize religious believers, you are going to receive a variety of different responses, and there is no way you can satisfy everyone. Get over it.
    (Incidentally, I have made pretty much the identical comment to Lefties complaining about the Right, and to Righties complaining about the Left.)
    My favorite take on the whole thing is a bumper sticker: “I don’t know. And you don’t either!”

  6. 10

    What I believe the case here, is that the writer, and her fellow band of atheists are heavily misguided, and misunderstood of true Christians. Of course there will be bigots, and those are unfortunately the ones you hear of the most, because the media needs interesting stories to stay alive. This would be the equivalent of a Christian picking on all atheists because of the loud dumb people who yell a lot at protests, just at you see the Westboro Baptist Church and criticize them. Well guess what? So do we. If you ever speak to a true Christian, we will NEVER tell you that you are WRONG about evolution or what not. We truly believe that there is at i behind it all, but that is not to say that the Big Bang cannot have existed. After all, it could have been a higher being that created a the Big Bang or what not. Nothing comes from nothing. Something started it all. We simply believe that it is God. As for the “pedophile” comment, that is uncalled for. The percentage is actually quite low if you did your research correctly. Many people hype this up because they are mindless followers of the “cooler atheist and liberal crowd”. I am definitely not wrong. Go into any high school, even a Catholic one. Of course not all, but many atheists consider themselves “smarter”, especially in the high school environment. Of course many of them all end up picking some degree that is overstocked in this nation, or is easy to obtain. The few atheists that are sane DO NOT voice their opinion and say religion is wrong. They simply state why they believe in what they do, and move on. In all honesty, they are well respected. As for those who make unwarranted comments (just as how you see some Christians), they are obviously just adding fuel to fire. So before all believers get classified into one category, please, like I am, STRESS that only FEW are like that. It is dangerous to brand everybody into one category, as history has taught us. Before you say the Church was oppressive, remember that the Church was AGAINST slavery. Another popular argument is that God condemns gays. Perhaps this is true to the WBC, but to many, many true Christians, they are not! Everybody has a burden to carry. Gays should always be treated with respect that anybody would receieve. They have the same rights as we do. The only hardship is that they cannot get married to the same sex. Straights cannot, and neither can gays. Fair, no? To be born with something is acceptable, but it is how you live your life. If you truly believe that it is fair to “accomodate” because it is something that they were born with and cannot change, and therefore is not fair, consider the following. So let’s say somebody aspires to be an athlete, is just genetically not capable to put on the right weight. It would be fair to accomodate them with steroids, because it is not fair that they are born with this and should be give equal chances and rights. Sure. If this is what you truly believe, then sure.

  7. 11

    What I believe the case here, is that the writer, and her fellow band of atheists are heavily misguided, and misunderstood of true Christians.
    You’re not exactly helping your side… Just saying 😀

  8. 12

    This is a very interesting and thought-provoking post, Greta. And it’s provoked this one in me. A believer using logical reasoning to prove the existence of God is like a lunatic using an ax to hew a statue out of fog. You can shout your rational arguments to the dogma believing crowd until you’re blue in the face and they’ll always come on top, because they don’t give a toss about competing on a level intellectual playing field. They’re a bunch of parasites praying upon and taking an unfair advantage of science and the honesty (and thus the vulnerability) of the scientific method. Left to their own devices only with that silly ,,good book” of theirs to use as a source of knowledge, they’d still be afraid to travel straight ahead very far for fear of falling off the earth’s edge.

  9. 14

    The only hardship is that they cannot get married to the same sex.
    This “hardship” comes with the denial of more than 1000 rights associated with marraige, including hospital visitation, joint taxes and protection from domestic violence. You also forgot to mention that in many states an employer can fire me if they find out that my partner is the same sex. This is all because people like you assume Christian values as the basis for a pluralist society.

  10. 15

    Good evening;
    My post is for ‘Frank Incense?’ May I pose a problem for you?
    Let us look at the whole idea this way if we might?
    I believe in God, and you do not.
    Fine, let’s see what might happen.
    First, if I live my life believing in God and you do not, and, God does not exist, then when you and I die, neither of us lose anything. Fine.
    Let us wager, however, that if God does exist and you and I live our lives, you – the unbeliever, and I – a believer then:
    I gain everything and you lose everything.
    I don’t like your odds. Good luck.
    Thank you.

  11. 17

    Apologize to “themann1086” – seemed like a good place to interject a layman’s verse.
    I have not read enough of the other threads to realize your point.
    I will curb my energy and check my six in the future.
    Thank you

  12. 18

    Maxx: The argument you’re presenting here is commonly known as Pascal’s Wager. And it’s one of the worst arguments for religion around. Just a few of the things wrong with it:
    1: It assumes that there’s only one version of God, and only one religion. How do you decide which god to believe in? What if you believe in the Christian god, and it turns out when you die that the Muslims were right? You would go to hell simply for not believing in the right god. Without good evidence for one religion over another, there’s no reason to think your wager on the Christian god is any more likely than my wager on no god at all.
    2: It assumes that there is little or no cost to believing in God. This is plainly not true. In most religions, God doesn’t just require that you believe in him. He requires that you behave in a certain way: abstain from some behaviors and participate in others (such as not eating shellfish, or not engaging in extramarital sex, or praying five times a day, or donating money to your religious institution). If you bet on God and were wrong, you’ve wasted a lot of time/ money/ potential pleasure that you didn’t get to have. And the consequences of religious belief are, in my opinion, far more harmful than simply wasted time/ money/ potential pleasure. More on that:
    The Armor of God, or, The Top One Reason Religion Is Harmful
    3: It assumes that belief in God has a reasonable plausibility. If I told you that the universe was created by two enormous green space-borne lobsters named Esmerelda and Keith, and that you’ll be torn in their pincers for all eternity after you die if you don’t take a one-mile swim every Thursday… would you decide to believe, and to swim every Thursday, just because the consequences of not believing would be so dire? No — because you have absolutely no good reason to think that Esmerelda and Keith exist. And I have absolutely no good reason to think that God exists, or that he’ll punish people after we die for not believing in him. If you can’t make a better case for God’s existence than Pascal’s wager, then I have no reason to take it seriously. And if you can make a better case for God’s existence, then why would we need Pascal’s wager?
    4: The “belief” you’re talking about is not sincere belief. Even if I accepted the logical validity of this wager, it still wouldn’t work. I can’t make myself “believe” that something is true just because it would be convenient to do so. If God is real, do you think he’d be fooled by people pretending to believe in him just so they won’t burn in hell when they die?
    Pascal’s Wager is a move of desperation. It’s one of the places religious belief goes when all other foundations have been shown to be built on sand, and it has no other arguments left. It’s a non-argument.

  13. 19

    Good evening;
    I’ve read this. Fine – do tell us all – what God are you denying?
    Pascal’s wager is not a move of desperation – you’ve not comprehended what he was saying.
    It’s only a test – not a dogmatic
    Pascal said that if the test is whether or not meaning has any sense of fulfillment – I have reached it.
    His wager was only a test…
    He was saying that if what I believe is correct – I have met my life’s satisfaction in God.
    Why does atheists say – that we must make our own meaning – any meaning we wish – except the God meaning? Who are the atheists to determine what each of us may use to make our own meaning?
    Atheists say that religion is dangerous – but they never mention that during the 20th century – godless atheism murdered some 200 million people.
    Maybe I don’t like that.
    I think Pascal had a point.
    Just thinking…

  14. 20

    Actually Maxx, you aren’t thinking, you are just parrotting talking points we could destroy in our sleep.
    The 20th century on a per capita basis wasn’t particularly bad, and the communists of the 20th century may have been terrible in comparison to democratic capitalist states, but they were a major improvement over the feudalist or in Cuba’s case outright criminal, regimes that preceded them.
    You can see this by looking at average lifespans – which I doubt you ever would considering that you view what amounts to an appeal to consequences and an advertisement of your own severe lack of integrity as a “good argument.”
    Pascal’s wager is not just bad logic, but an insult.

  15. DA

    ” but they were a major improvement over the feudalist ”
    Bruce, while I don’t agree with with Maxx on, well, anything, I think you’re on pretty shaky ground here. The Czars may have been jerks but nowhere near on the order of Stalin, or even Lenin for that matter. Was Mao worse than the landlords and Nationalists? Hard to say. He did go out of his way to wreck China’s traditional culture and was so ruthlessly anti-intellectual that China is still recovering in some ways from the cultural revolution. I mean, I’ll cop that Mao, Stalin, etc were in fact atheists, but their primary ideology was state Communism, so I feel no need to claim them. Their crimes are not an atheist’s to answer unless an atheist endorses their policies. It’s not as if they were FIRST AND FOREMOST atheists, religion comes up very little in their speeches, writings, etc.

  16. 22

    We shouldn’t have to defend atheism as a moral philosophy, because it’s not about morality, it’s just a simple statement of lack of belief. Defending atheism’s reputation from evil atheists would be like defending the reputation of pants from evil pants-wearing people.
    If Mao and Stalin were popularly known as humanists or rationalists, then I’d be worried and thinking about choosing an alternative identifier for my own moral philosophy… but atheism by itself is morally neutral.

  17. 24

    Posted by: DA | December 27, 2010 at 05:39 AM
    Stalin basically destroyed Russia’s lead in genetic science and had a thing for killing off anyone who even considered disagreeing with him.
    Plus the genocide of Holdomor and the various other manmade famines born of collectivisation.
    He was absolutely terrible.
    But I still maintain that the czars were worse – when you consider how lifespans improved so rapidly and dramatically under Stalin.
    That isn’t an endorsement of communism, but rather a condemnation of feudalism.
    Fortunately we live in reasonably secular capitalist constitutional republics, which despite their flaws are generally better than any form of totalitarianism.

  18. 25

    I just read this for, like, the fifth time. Thank you so much for everything you write. I love reading it, and you help me think so much more clearly.

  19. 26

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  20. 27

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  21. 28

    I believe in Jesus Christ Lord and Savior, my belief has changed me. It makes me want better for you.
    Please I beg you do not get caught up in who is right who is wrong. Please try and listen and hear Him repent from sin and seek him out.

    Mark 16:16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. NKJV

    The bible is testimony from those who witnessed Jesus and wrote down what they saw and were told.
    I do not need to defend the bible nor God it is He who defends and heals me and is of truth, Jesus is the only Authority.

    Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ” All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” NKJV

    Isaiah 64:8 But now, O Lord, You are our Father; We are the clay, and You our potter; And all we are the work of your hand. NKJV
    Why does the clay continue to tell the potter he does not think he was made by Him?

    Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing, And they have no more reward, For the memory of them is forgotten. 6 Also their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished; Nevermore will they have a share In anything done under the sun. NKJV

    1 “You shall have no other gods before me”
    2 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image”
    3 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain”
    4 “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy”
    5 “Honor your father and mother”
    6 ” You shall not murder”
    7 “You shall not commit adultery”
    8 ” You shall not steal”
    9 “You shall not lie”
    10 “You shall not covet”
    God is not the author of chaos and confusion. HE is incapable of lying He will not lead nor cause you to sin.
    Yes you can get something for nothing, it is called Gods grace it is a gift from Him to you. You cannot earn your way into heaven.
    Galatians 2:16 knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. NKJV

  22. 29

    christ0pher @ #26: Please note my comment policy. Religious proselytizing is not permitted in this blog. I welcome lively and vigorous discussion with people whose opinions I disagree with — but if you’re only going to spout your beliefs without being willing to engage in discussion and debate about those beliefs, your comments are not welcome. Please either engage in genuine two-way discussion in these comments, or else take yourself out of these comment discussions. Thank you.

  23. 30

    1 “You shall have no other gods before me”

    Why not? In for a penny, in for a pound, is what I say. If you’re going to believe in one god, why not a whole bunch? Personally I think Ganesh is far cooler than Yahweh. At the very least, Ganesh is far less insecure.

    2 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image”

    Censorship isn’t cool, dude.

    3 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain”

    What if he’s not MY god but someone else’s? He’s definitely not my lord, anyway, regardless of whether he created me or not. I’ll take his goddamn name in vain if I feel like it.

    4 “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy”

    By sleeping in and drinking mimosas all day.

    5 “Honor your father and mother”

    No thanks. I think I’ll just hang out with them and enjoy their company. Lucky for me they’re not abusive, judgmental assholes, like some people’s parents. Some people have parents who should not be honored by anyone. This particular bullshit is especially harmful.

    6 ” You shall not murder”

    You need a magic book to tell you that? Creepy.

    7 “You shall not commit adultery”

    At least, not unless you’ve informed your spouse and gotten permission beforehand.

    8 ” You shall not steal”

    This is one of those ones where Yahweh’s totally like, “Do as I SAY not as I DO.” Actually, so is the one about adultery.

    9 “You shall not lie”

    But then how would you continue spreading your religion?? Big dilemma.

    10 “You shall not covet”

    Thoughtcrime anyone?

  24. 32

    As I am working through your post to respond, I will comply with your comment policy, and I do hope that other posters that would respond to my previous post would follow suit.

    Thank you,

  25. 33

    Hello Greta,
    Been pondering many things just wondering if you have seen a movie called I Am ? no it is not preaching the gospels. If you have what did you think of it?
    There is also another movie maybe you would enjoy called Constantine’s Sword also not preaching the gospels.
    Just curious as to your take on them if you have watched them?

  26. 34

    I am a theological noncognitivist. We claim that alleged definitions of the term “God” are incoherent because we see all alleged definitions of the term “God” as amounting to “God is the intelligent uncreated creator of everything other than God”, We can only see this as incoherent because it attempts to define the term “God” in terms of the term “God”. Thus we claim that “God does not exist” is nonsensical language just as the nonsensical “God exists” or “God may exist”. Thus we accuse atheists and agnostics of having faith that the term “God” is as meaningful a term as the well-defined term “unicorn” for a nonexistent animal. This bothers us. We are just as much opposed to the atheists’ faith that “God” refers to a nonexistent being as we are against theists’ faith that it refers to an existent being.

  27. 35

    Edwin McCravy @34

    I’m certainly impressed with how you and your fellow “theological noncognitivists” manage to condemn both theists and atheists for believing or not believing in the thousands of gods human ingenuity has devised. In honor of you coming down firmly on neither side of the controversy, here’s a token of my esteem.

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