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The Firebrand

Getting more involved in an atheist/skeptic group has reawakened some of the harder disparities within a single movement. While everyone seems to have the same general goal, the method of getting there seems to always be in dispute. This is quite important because how you get to a place will no doubt speak to the final judgment of the attempt (whether successful or not). Like the German army in WWI going through Belgium, it’s not just that they invaded a country to march into France, it’s also that they executed civilians on the way there.

One individual that I talked to recently was of the position that we needed to stop pretending that the religious people’s opinions were valid. Not because he disagreed but because they were sourced in fiction. He said that we needed more people to shout in their faces and that we shouldn’t respect them anymore.

I strongly disagree with this sentiment for a number of reasons. The first, and this is in no order of importance, is that an opinion sourced in fiction is merely a poisoned well fallacy. It could be very well, that all of the things that we attribute to Socrates through the writings of Plato are fictitious. While we have good evidence that the person of Socrates lived, we don’t really know what he said, because the man himself did not write anything…or, to be generous, if he did it’s lost to the ravages of time. That doesn’t mean Platonic philosophy is wrong, it’s wrong for a number of different reasons that I don’t want to get into. Further I can also make the case that, say, if I were to build an AI Robot building into it an ethical program based on Asimov’s laws of robotics would be wrong because Asimov just made them up in a fictional book. Or that I should not resist continual government surveillance merely because I found myself terrified of Orwell’s 1984 State.

It’s also a form of ad hominem. Ideas should be evaluated as the ideas themselves. Not necessarily where they came from and here the individual is shooting their own foot. We know that they aren’t correct for the reasons that the other person thinks they are correct. Just doubling down on the “I don’t have to listen to you because of X” indicates that you are willing to ignore the other person because of preconceived notions of what they are going to say–an accusation that we make of their side and we should not be guilty of it.

The second problem is more pragmatic. It’s that we have to fight a stereotype of being exactly that by the opposition. One of the problems that atheists have in this country is that we are viewed as untrustworthy, immoral, arrogant, and angry. It’s not enough that we have to be right nearly 100% of the time, it’s also that we have to be polite and humble in order to get our message through. Leaders and voices of the movement will be immediately dismissed and disregarded if they come across as being anything other than a meek fish that can be harassed. Typically this means they have to tone down the rhetoric but even looking at the first episode of “God Friended Me” with its atheist main character–all of the bite of his podcast arguments were taken out. Atheism is legitimately scary to some people and coming across as the angry stereotype that they built will only reinforce that image.

Not to say that person doesn’t have their place. For every one of them there are ten just like them on the opposite side that probably need that shouting stereotype to reign in their rhetoric. It’s just that it has to be the role they are willing to play, as well as be resigned that unless they become incredibly successful at it, they cannot be the leaders.

As off putting it is to the religious it has just the same type of effect on those on the fence. Recently I was talking to an individual who described themselves as “agnostic” specifically because this person didn’t want to identify themselves with the same type of person they had listened to on a podcast. No I didn’t get the name of the podcast, but it did have a single host if that helps you internet sleuths out there. We’re just not going to get the cross appeal that we need for those people on fence if we confirm this stereotype.

Finally there’s a moral problem here. We shouldn’t disrespect people just because they think differently than us. We can disrespect the ideas, but purposely attacking their person just because of their ideas? No. Fight the idea because ideas can be changed as rare as that is.

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Categories: atheism, Uncategorized
  1. October 16, 2018 at 3:50 pm

    Reblogged this because I think it makes an important point.

  2. October 16, 2018 at 3:52 pm

    Reblogged this because it makes an important point

    • rdxdave
      October 23, 2018 at 1:46 am

      Thanks for the compliment, it was a hard post to write.

  3. October 17, 2018 at 7:04 am

    Think of horses…. and “rein” in the rhetoric. 🙂

  1. October 16, 2018 at 3:49 pm

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