Winning the War Against Religious Derp

-->
Obama Administration

Since About.com shut down the blog section of my Buddhism site, and since I have a book to promote, I’ve started a new Rethinking Religion blog to focus on religious issues. I’ll still be ranting about politics here, of course. I’m cross-posting today because I thought you might like this one:

***

If you’ve read my book Rethinking Religion, you know how much I want reactionary Christians to stop trying to force the rest of us to bow to their tribal totems. If it were up to me, there’d be no Ten Commandments monuments or Nativity scenes on pubic property. No store clerk would ever be harassed for saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” There’s be no special legal favors for “Christian” corporations, no proselytizing anywhere, and separation of church and state would be global policy.

Although achieving this happily tolerant state won’t be easy and won’t happen in my lifetime, I think it could happen some day. But there’s a smart way to work toward a religiously tolerant world, and there’s the stupid way.

Buy My Book at Amazon

For examples of stupid, see 5 atheist and Muslim billboards that drove the Christian right nuts at Salon. One is a large billboard with a picture of Santa Claus, captioned “Keep the MERRY.” Under that is Christ on the Cross, captioned “Dump the MYTH.” Another billboard reads “Who Needs Christ During Christmas? Nobody!” The name “Christ” is crossed out. These billboards were both sponsored by the group American Atheists.

The Salon article quotes American Atheist president David Silverman: ““We all love this time of year…Christianity has been trying to claim ownership of the season for hundreds of years. But the winter solstice came first and so did its traditions. The season belongs to everybody.” I agree. I also think that’s what they should have said on their billboards — The season belongs to everybody. Ridiculing Jesus was unnecessary.

Seriously, atheist dudes, the Christian Right is not Jesus’ fault. The CR may have adopted Jesus as its team mascot, but it’s ignored his teachings for years. And seeing Jesus ridiculed is as jarring to Christians — including the tolerant, progressive ones — as watching their mothers being publicly humiliated.

This is not a way to win hearts and minds; it’s just a cheap self-indulgence.

Before buying any more billboard space, I suggest that American Atheists sit down and have a good, long think about what they are trying to accomplish. And then they should take a look at current research in cognitive science and social psychology to craft a smarter way to achieve their goals.

For example, is the goal (a) to wean humankind from religion completely? Or is it (b) to foster a society in which religion is respected as a private matter and not something we’re perpetually hassling each other about?

I can tell you right now (a) is not going to happen in your lifetimes. Or this century. Likely not in this millennia. Something that has been part of civilization since there has been civilization doesn’t disappear that easily. I’m not even going to try to persuade you that (a) wouldn’t necessarily be a good thing, although I don’t think it would be. I’m saying it’s a fool’s errand to even try.

If (b), now we’re talking. That is more do-able. And a lot of religious people, like me, would happily join you in the effort. Even then it won’t be easy, but I think enough people are getting fed up with the antics of religious extremists that a smartly run campaign might actually work.

“Smartly run” brings us to the cognitive science and social psychology. Google “motivated reasoning” and read up on it. Rmuse at Politics USA explains,

What results of the several studies demonstrate is that once a partisan is confronted with unwelcome facts about their beliefs, the centers of their brain associated with emotional distress light up and remain active until their defective brains “rationalize away the unwanted information.” According to one of the scientists conducting the studies, when conservatives and Christian zealots rationalize away unwanted information, the centers of their brains associated with positive feelings turn on and “overlap substantially with those activated when drug addicts get their ‘fix.’”

The studies also prove that despite showing conservatives, Republicans, gun fanatics, and evangelical special interests facts, scriptures, and even video evidence that their strongly held beliefs are pure fantasy or absolutely wrong, conservative (and some liberal) brains automatically reject facts because they refute their personal beliefs. Research teams at Yale and Dartmouth discovered, for example, that highly skilled mathematicians will, more often than not, deliberately reach an incorrect answer if data leads to a conclusion that is contrary to their political worldview. There are myriad examples of conservatives and evangelical fanatics disputing hard data, the Constitution, and the Christian bible because they are programmed by conservatives’ buzzwords, memes, and outright lies into believing their errant conclusions and faith are fact.

I doubt that surprises anyone, but do re-read the first paragraph of the excerpt. If your message is one that triggers a negative emotional reaction in most folks, including those who might be persuadable, you are hurting your cause more than helping it.

Negative attack ads work in elections — usually, anyway — because they can whip up enough low-information voters to vote against the guy the ads are attacking. Especially in a close election, just a few hundred voters can change the outcome.

But, dear atheists, you aren’t trying to be elected to a county commission. You’re trying to change society itself. That’s a whole ‘nother thing. And your “target audience,” the people whose minds you are trying to change, are not the hard-right religious extremists, because their minds will not change.

Your audience is everybody else, religious and not-religious.

Take a cue from same-sex marriage advocates. They are winning public opinion by engendering public sympathy. They are changing minds by presenting a positive image of themselves as loving, responsible and family oriented, not by bashing their opposition.

Years ago I formulated a basic rule for successful demonstrating that I call the “Bigger Asshole” rule. The job of public protesters is not to change the minds of the powerful people they are opposing, but to gain public sympathy for their cause. Especially in politics, the powerful won’t change until they are compelled to do so by a sufficient critical mass of public opinion saying they must.

So the job of protesters and demonstrators is to make the people they are protesting look like bigger assholes than they are. But if the protesters come across as bigger assholes than the protestees, the public will side with the establishment. And I assure you that, in terms of the Bigger Asshole rule, ridiculing Jesus is a losing strategy.

LGBT activists are winning public opinion by making gay-bashers look like the bigger assholes. And considering there’s a lot of overlap between homophobes and religious extremists, atheists ought to be able to do the same thing.

Share
52 Comments

52 Comments

  1. Bob  •  Jul 17, 2014 @9:58 am

    Huh, thanks Maha for your very good insight…I have been floundering around in my own little world, trying to make sense of the whole religious/anti-religious thing…the noise from the Mathew 7:15 crowed is trying to drown out or keep others silent…Umm…now off to yer other site…

  2. joanr16  •  Jul 17, 2014 @10:34 am

    Still loving that term “derp,” which includes a whole host of intellectual sins (as it were).

  3. Phaedrus  •  Jul 17, 2014 @11:08 am

    I am an atheist and I agree that the billboards were in bad taste, perhaps even unproductive. Your writing admonishes “Atheists”, when I think you mean, “The folks who approved and paid for the billboards”. We get this a lot from the faithful, who are always very quick to distance themselves from the extremists in their own religion of choice when the tables are turned.

  4. maha  •  Jul 17, 2014 @11:31 am

    Phaedrus — I thought I was being pretty careful to call out the group American Atheists, who are the ones who paid for the signs, without nagging at all atheists about it. If I sometimes didn’t bother to write out “the group American Atheists, who are the ones who paid for the signs” as much as you would have liked, I apologize.

  5. Phaedrus  •  Jul 17, 2014 @12:26 pm

    This is what caught my eye : “But, dear atheists, you aren’t trying to be elected to a county commission. You’re trying to change society itself.”

    You’re speaking to a subject that I’ve been struggling with. Most of my family are evangelical Christians, which, nowadays, means Republican and anti-science. I vacillate between long-winded explanations as to why science works, and outright ridicule over their rejection of evolution, climate change, etc.
    I don’t know if it’s helpful, but I’ve been trying to draw upon the lessons of the civil rights movement – creating common ground where I can, but trying to call out those with entrenched beliefs.
    It’s been many years now and I’m tired of it. I’m headed towards a two week vacation with many of them and, for the first time, I’m not looking forward to seeing them. I find that I relate better when I consider them to be mental patients for whom certain topics set them off and need to be avoided – sadly that’s not a joke. Doing this saves me from that jarring moment when a supposedly sane conversations is suddenly injected with a statement so outrageous that it leaves you speechless and angry. It’s just draining to be elbow to elbow with crazy people for extended periods.

    Anyway – that’s more than you needed to hear. I appreciate your column, read it religiously ;), and look forward to reading your book.

  6. uncledad  •  Jul 17, 2014 @12:57 pm

    OT, another Malaysian Airliner has been lost (this one shot down), so yeah for CNN they can rev up the airliner speculation machine! Related Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said Thursday that “there’s going to be hell to pay” if it is determined that either Russia or pro-Russian separatists shot down a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane flying over Eastern Ukraine.
    Will someone please tell Gramps that he is not the commander in chief, or the commander of anything, thank God!

  7. maha  •  Jul 17, 2014 @1:06 pm

    Phaedrus — I grew up in the Ozark Mountain section of the Bible Belt, but while my family was religious, we were Lutheran. So we were a kind of moderate, repressed, let’s not argue about it religious, not the have you found JEE-zus kind of religious. :-) But I do know what you mean.

    People’s minds hardly ever change through discussion. If you are deeply conditioned to hold certain views, you are unlikely to change them without hitting some intense personal crisis that throws you up against a doctrinal wall, and you admit to yourself that something’s not working. Then, maybe.

    If your relatives are otherwise pleasant people, and if they express views that are perhaps irrational but fall short of advocating eating Muslim babies, you could perhaps find a way to not let it get to you. Buddhist meditation does help, if you stick with it for awhile, but there probably are other chill-out techniques to use. It gets to me when I hear people spew hate speech or say something demonstrably ignorant, like the President and his family are an Islamic sleeper cell, in which case I either have to argue back or walk away. Not enough meditation in the world, frankly.

  8. Swami  •  Jul 17, 2014 @1:22 pm

    Phaedrus…. You’ll enjoy her book. I know for me what Maha wrote on the subject of doubt was especially helpful to me.
    The most grievous wound that a Christian ever inflicted on me was being accused of being “a double minded man unstable in all his ways who is tossed about by every wind of doctrine”. It’s a painful experience to be denied the sovereignty of your own mind and to be viewed by the people you love as someone to be pitied because you are willfully disobedient to God, and that you will perish for eternity for not accepting God’s love.

  9. uncledad  •  Jul 17, 2014 @2:26 pm

    “If it were up to me, there’d be no Ten Commandments monuments or Nativity scenes on pubic property. No store clerk would ever be harassed for saying “Happy Holidays” ………….”

    You know thirty something years ago before Saint Ronnie Raygun those were mainstream American values, religion was not discouraged but it certainly was not promoted in the taxpayer funded square. Now those statements are considered un-American by many, the role of Christianity (not religion in general just Christianity) is central to almost every political campaign, I know of one Muslim in congress but do we have any non-believers? I read that nearly 30% of Americans are either outright atheists or at least agnostic yet were is our representation?

  10. uncledad  •  Jul 17, 2014 @2:28 pm

    “and that you will perish for eternity for not accepting God’s love”

    You know Swami somehow I get the feeling that things will be just the opposite, don’t ask me why it’s just a hunch!

  11. c u n d gulag  •  Jul 17, 2014 @2:40 pm

    I’m and Agnostic, so, I’m neither a believer, nor a dis-believer.
    Believe what you want, but leave me out of it.
    And I’ll respect your religious beliefs, if you don’t try to convert me and everyone in sight, and tell people how to live and what to do.
    You’re not a real religious believer – you’re an intolerant buttinsky with probably a variety of psychiatric issues!!!

    But I also find a lot of Atheists to be just as dogmatic, and just a ideological and demagogic, as their uber-religious counterparts.

    They’re kind of like the Yang, to the religious people’s Ying.

    The way to deal with intolerance, is not your own intolerance.
    Like maha says, then you’re both ‘equal assholes!

    Gandhi and MLK Jr, handled intolerance perfectly.
    Hell, so did Jesus, if he really existed – as written years later.

    They swayed people by showing the discrepancy between rabid and dogmatic Manichean lunatics, and people who took what they got, and turned the other cheek.

    Soon, the lunatics were shamed and marginalized by the majority of society.

    Of course, being Manichean lunatics, they just lay low for awhile, before they pop their ugly heads back out from under the rocks they were hiding beneath.

    Btw – Phaedrus, best of luck.
    And turn the other cheek. Look for the good in them.
    And if you can’t, or they won’t let you because they keep pestering you, hell, go to the lake, the mountains, a park, or museums.
    There are probably more nearby within a few hours, then you might think.
    Oh, and kill ‘em with kindness!

    If all else fails, fake a work emergency, and go somewhere else for your vacation. ;-)

  12. Swami  •  Jul 17, 2014 @2:56 pm

    uncledad…Well, when you’re groveling before the judgment seat of Christ and about to be cast into the lake of fire…you’re hunch ain’t gonna save ya. :)

  13. maha  •  Jul 17, 2014 @3:09 pm

    Swami — The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Bardo Thodol) has some dandy tips for avoiding the lake of fire. I don’t know if they work, but it can’t hurt to be prepared. :-)

  14. uncledad  •  Jul 17, 2014 @3:43 pm

    “you’re hunch ain’t gonna save ya”

    Hey at least I’ll be in good company!

  15. Swami  •  Jul 17, 2014 @4:06 pm

    Maha.. Sorry to hear that the blog section of you Buddhist site was shut down. I would occasionally read comments from your viewers and felt that the interactions of sharing and asking questions is an essential part of helping people in understanding Buddhism. I don’t know the reasoning behind that decision, but I see it as a big loss for a sincere effort to communicate what Buddhism is all about.

  16. Swami  •  Jul 17, 2014 @4:12 pm

    Hey at least I’ll be in good company!</I.

    Sure will! You'll probably be sitting next to Gulag in queue for the catapult that will launch you into the lake of fire.

  17. c u n d gulag  •  Jul 17, 2014 @4:15 pm

    Satan’s minions will need a mighty big catapult to launch my fat ass anywhere!

    Like one of those that launched a cow, in “The Search for the Holy Grail.”

  18. maha  •  Jul 17, 2014 @4:23 pm

    Swami — About.com did away with all of the blogs for all of the sections. I don’t know why, exactly, but everything they do is calculated to increase page views. It was an SEO decision, I assume.

  19. maha  •  Jul 17, 2014 @4:25 pm

    the catapult that will launch you into the lake of fire.

    WEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeee……… PLOP! sizzle

  20. erinyes  •  Jul 17, 2014 @5:01 pm

    I’ve found it is pretty easy to out Jesus the fundies, and quite fun doing so.
    I’m atheist, but I don’t feel the need to be an ass hole about it ; I’m past the anger stage. I find it pretty entertaining now. Think leprechauns and unicorns.

    Netanyahu has just launched a ground war on Gaza. Hold onto your seats, folks. It’s show time !! Get off your ass, Mr. President. Who’s the boss ?

  21. omar  •  Jul 17, 2014 @5:25 pm

    If your goal was to be yet another condescending believer lecturing us clueless atheists on how we should behave: congratulations. I keep hearing believers say that the religious right doesn’t represent them–that the overwhelming majority of them aren’t neandertals. So where are they? There are certainly more of you than there are of us nonbelievers. And yet you consistently either cower in the face of theocratic nuttery or ignore them and hope they’ll go away.

    I have my own issues with atheist billboards. But at least those groups are offering some kind of public resistance. What are all of you peaceful progressive believers doing? You’re outmatched and out organized by the religious right at every turn. Why? Look to your own house before you lecture someone else.

  22. Swami  •  Jul 17, 2014 @6:01 pm

    Think leprechauns and unicorns.

    And Dumbo’s magic feather.

  23. maha  •  Jul 17, 2014 @7:07 pm

    Omar — why do you assume I am a “believer”? I am no theist. I have been a student of Zen Buddhism for years, and Zen discourages us from believing anything. I do not give a hoohaw whether you believe in God or Jesus or Krishna or Carl Sagan. You appear to be viewing the world through a pretty thick fog of bias, though.

    And yet you consistently either cower in the face of theocratic nuttery or ignore them and hope they’ll go away.

    Wow, did you ever miss the mark. I just published a whole book ridiculing theocratic nuttery, among other things. I’ve been speaking out against right-wing religious reactionism for years. And I know actual theists doing the same thing. Pay attention. Frederick Clarkson and Chris Hedges come to mind.

    Dude: I am looking to my own house. You need to look to the bigotry in your own head.

  24. Lynne  •  Jul 17, 2014 @8:24 pm

    I have a partial response to Omar. Those of us who are “mainstream” Christian (Catholic, Anglican/Episcopal and Lutheran) were brought up to believe that our religious beliefs were, for the most part, private and belonging to ourselves alone. While there are evangelicals amongst these groups, they are not the same as Evangelicals who must promote their own ideas of the Godhead everywhere.

  25. uncledad  •  Jul 17, 2014 @9:12 pm

    If Hobby Lobby can refuse to comply with Federal law and not to pay for birth control coverage based on religious reasons then I want to be exempt from paying federal taxes that are laundered to state of Israel so they can commit genocide against the Palestinian people every two to three years. I wonder will the Supremes here my plea?

  26. uncledad  •  Jul 17, 2014 @9:15 pm

    hear my plea? GPS?

  27. Craig  •  Jul 18, 2014 @12:57 am

    Maha, great post! The following phrases from you or something similar should be somewhere permanently on your front page: “Years ago I formulated a basic rule for successful demonstrating that I call the “Bigger Asshole” rule. The job of public protesters is not to change the minds of the powerful people they are opposing, but to gain public sympathy for their cause.” This is the practical rule that comes out of the many thoughtful things you’re writing about.

    I deal a lot with global warming. I’m frustrated every time a reasonable religious group decides to get more serious about global warming and atheists proceed to make completely unnecessary comments about religion. When groups like Unitarians or the World Church decide to divest from fossil fuels, they are allies of those trying to deal with global warming. It is a big deal and they deserve to be welcomed without comment.

    Here’s the thing: global warming as its name indicates, is a global issue in a world of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, agnostics (like me) and many other groups, even including the last of the Zoroastrians (I met one once).

    Another issue that many people miss is that there is considerable difference between the “religious” leaders who are authoritarian (and often obsessed with money and/or power) and those (usually less public) leaders who more thoughtful and human in their understanding of religion. There’s a vast philosophical difference between those two types of religious leaders even when they profess to be of the same religion. You touch on this sometimes and it’s an important distinction.

    And you’re right, it’s not a debate that will be won today.

    You understand these issues and they’re big ones. I hope you keep writing about them.

    The truth is that things are starting to happen very fast. Faster than anyone was expecting. If there is to be some kind of useful debate on the other side, people need to be looking for allies who are not overwhelmingly driven by greed, violence, hatred or bitterness. Needless to say, this is a big topic.

  28. erinyes  •  Jul 18, 2014 @6:12 am

    Penn jillette did a “this I believe” piece for NPR several years ago about being an atheist. It is one of the best explanations I’ve seen, and well worth reading, especially if you are a staunch believer and can’t understand atheism. If you are an atheist and tired of people moching you about your view, it is uplifting, to say the least.
    I pulled it up again several months ago with a Google search.
    When I was growing up Catholic in the 60′ and 70’s, the only thing worse than being aethiest was being a communist or a “queer”.(I didn’t know what homosexual was until I saw two men making out in long beach, ca.)

  29. goatherd  •  Jul 18, 2014 @8:40 am

    WARNING: The following observations may have nothing in common with reality!! I’d skip to the recipe at the end if I were you.

    I live in a community founded by a fundamentalist church. My neighbors are thoughtful, kind people who happen to have a completely different set of assumptions about the world. We live physically close, but in parallel universes. After so many years in the Bible Belt, I am hungry for an alternative. If that boils down to talking to a bunch of “other elitist liberals posturing from vin rosé to cocktails about politics and art,” as conservatives might describe it, okay, I’ll take that, and atheists would be most welcome. I am not going to come up with earth shattering ideas or penetrating insights, except by the confluence of pure chance and a Negroni or two. But, am going to follow my curiosity and take in as much of the world as I can before they put me in the pine suit. I assume that most other people probably want something similar, despite the obvious fact that their curiosity has led them to an entirely different place.

    Once in a while I meet someone who has skinful of Alex Jones or Glenn Beck. They start to rave on about something, and scenes from Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaiden’s Tale” start to dance in my head. Nothing short of a shot of thorazine and a straitjacket is going to move them off their rant. Logic seems a poor choice of weapons against whatever is happening to them. Something will have to “stop their world” as Carlos Castenada put it. Something that will force them to rethink everything they “know” about the world. The odds of that are vanishingly close to zero, which is the extent of the thing called “hope.”

    In general, people that tear off on a rant at the slightest provocation or simply as a “conversation starter,” are most often, not listening. They are not capable of listening to others, and I suspect strongly, that they are not even listening to themselves. There may seem to be a conversation happening, but, that is simply illusion. The ranter merely wants to validate their version of reality by displaying its power over lesser, contemptible souls like their interlocutor. So, listen carefully and ask questions. The only hope is to introduce a bit of doubt.
    All the possible routes of communication are very nearly blocked anyway. A lot of people are really only looking for the slightest excuse to shut them down completely and call the game in their own favor. Don’t give them the chance, and remember, anger will make a fool of you every time.

    Now here’s how you make a Negroni:
    2 oz of gin
    2 oz of a nice spicy sweet vermouth
    1 oz of Compari (can be up to 2 oz, to taste)
    Give it a good long shake, I usually shake it until a bar towel will stick to the shaker with frost, CUNDgulag as a professionally seasoned mixologist, might have some suggestions.
    If you’re in an adventurous mood, twist a bit of orange peel until the oil comes out, light it on fire and drop it into the mixture, otherwise, a dash of bitters. I have never been able to achieve the “fire” part anyway, maybe a Zoroastrian could help.
    This cocktail will put you in a contemplative mood, where banality seems to brim with meaning.

  30. omar  •  Jul 18, 2014 @11:46 am

    Nice try, Maha. But it’s not necessary to worship a deity to be believer. Buddhist concepts like cycles of rebirth and nirvana are no better than beliefs in gods or celestial paradises.

    You wrote a book. Good. That’s important work; but it’s not the same thing as keeping creationists out of classrooms. You still haven’t replied directly to my point about why you progressive spiritual/religious types are so weak in the face of the religious right.

    Words are great. Words are important. But in the face of this enemy, boots on the ground are also needed. Where are the strong, organized, street level, religious moderates and liberals? As I said: your side claims to outnumber the nuts. Yet all you have to show for it is the intellectual high ground. Can you tell me why that is; or would you rather insult me some more?

  31. maha  •  Jul 18, 2014 @12:44 pm

    Nice try, Maha. But it’s not necessary to worship a deity to be believer. Buddhist concepts like cycles of rebirth and nirvana are no better than beliefs in gods or celestial paradises.

    You assume I believe in those things literally. I do not. And I hope you will not be so ignorant as to say that anything short of literal belief isn’t “serious” religion. Literal belief in doctrines and myths is a relatively recent phenomenon infecting Abrahamism. For most religious people through most of history, faith has not been the same thing as belief.

    You wrote a book. Good. That’s important work; but it’s not the same thing as keeping creationists out of classrooms. You still haven’t replied directly to my point about why you progressive spiritual/religious types are so weak in the face of the religious right.

    This is something I address in the book at length, but here’s a short version. Around the world, right-wing reactionary religion and right-wing reactionary politics have joined forces to seize power and stop modernity, democracy and progress. They’ve got money and momentum. Some of them have well-armed militias. Many have the tacit approval and protection of government, even when they become violent. Sometimes they are the government.

    Here in the U.S., for years right-wing ministers like Jerry Falwell have managed to get on television to be the face of Christianity, in part because they are promoted by right-wing organizations (sponsored by wealthy right-wing family trusts) that know how to promote them to television producers. Falwell and the old Moral Majority organization was organized, sponsored and promoted by Paul Weyrich, a co-founder of the Heritage Foundation, for example. Progressive ministers can’t even buy their way onto television.

    Progressive-liberal religion has no such support. Progressive politics mostly keeps progressive religion at arm’s length, in spite of western progressivism’s historical roots in Christianity and Judaism. And the true believers of evangelical atheism, which denies that religion is anything but fundamentalism, aren’t helping. So there end up being a lot of progressive religious people talking to each other and trying to organize, but being ignored by the Left as well as the Right.

    That’s why.

    As I said: your side claims to outnumber the nuts.

    I never made such a claim. The activist Right is a minority of the U.S. population, but the activist Left is probably smaller. There are a lot of people leaning one way or another that aren’t really “into” it yet. As far as progressive religion is concerned, from what I can see a large part of progressive Christianity is floundering, partly because the antics of the crazies have turned off so many young people to religion altogether.

    Can you tell me why that is; or would you rather insult me some more?

    Son, if you can’t take it, don’t dish it out. I have been unusually patient with you, and I am trying to respond to your derision and bigotry with actual discussion. But you don’t want to get into a snark contest with me. Trust me on that.

  32. erinyes  •  Jul 18, 2014 @1:17 pm

    My sister, my daughter, and one of my wife’s friends have each said ” I hope there’s something more than this “. I think that is the main driving force behind religion. Mortality is a hard thing to accept. I’m sure religion kept the serfs in the days of knights and Noble men from revolution and suicide.

  33. Swami  •  Jul 18, 2014 @2:25 pm

    Mortality is a hard thing to accept

    Amen and exactly.
    Sometimes I think that with all my abilities, skills, knowledge, achievements and life experience that having it all go to nothing is a terrible waste. Not that I’m so special, but all of those things create a value in my mind that doesn’t make sense to just go poof and be gone.

  34. omar  •  Jul 18, 2014 @3:26 pm

    Yes, you have been patient with me. Thank you for that. No, I don’t want to get into a snark contest with you. I just wanted you to answer my questions about why the religious/spiritual/whatever moderate/left is so weak—which you were kind enough to finally do. Thank you again.

    And I can take anything you can dish out.

  35. maha  •  Jul 18, 2014 @4:10 pm

    I just wanted you to answer my questions

    You could have asked nicely without piling a bunch of assumptions and insults on me first.

  36. uncledad  •  Jul 18, 2014 @6:20 pm

    “doesn’t make sense to just go poof and be gone”

    Why not the value of those things is in the here and now isn’t it?

  37. omar  •  Jul 18, 2014 @10:08 pm

    You’re right. I should have been nicer. But your advice for atheists pissed me off, and I did not handle that well. Your comparing atheists to gays doesn’t really work.You assumed that being accepted is a worthwhile goal. That we should be out to change hearts and minds. Based only on my own experiences; I know of few atheists who crave such public acceptance.

    What matters more than anything else is a secular public society where the rule of law applies to everyone equally. I don’t care if you’re nice to me or accept my lifestyle. Is that changing society? I don’t know. I always thought it was just maintaining a strong democracy.

    Is that a cause we share? Maybe. To me: a secular democracy means things like no automatic religious tax exemptions. Run a church doing charity work? Show your books and apply for tax exempt status annually like other non profits. I really want to meet the theist–liberal or whatever–who would fight for that.

    Anyway, I apologize for not using the reason I’m supposed to value. I look forward to getting your book. I also look forward to telling you what’s wrong about it.

  38. maha  •  Jul 18, 2014 @11:18 pm

    What matters more than anything else is a secular public society where the rule of law applies to everyone equally.

    Yes, but like it or not that’s not going to happen if a big part of the public just plain dislikes atheists as a group. That isn’t fair, but it’s how it is. The law already says you can’t be personally discriminated against because of atheism. The law already says there is to be no religious test for public office. That doesn’t mean atheists can get elected to anything, though, except in a handful of unusually liberal districts.

    The only law I can think of that arguably is discriminatory is tax law, and I suspect most religious institutions make so little money they wouldn’t pay taxes, anyway. I wouldn’t mind seeing the megachurches get socked, though.

    If you aren’t trying to get people to broaden their perspectives on church-state issues, then why bother with the billboards at al? And if you are trying to get people to broaden their perspectives, you’re just wasting time and resources if you come across as bigger assholes than the fundies, and I assure you those billboards have that effect.

    People’s feelings don’t just cloud judgment; for most people, their feelings determine their judgments. They don’t have to fall in love with you to be fair to you, but few people who find you actively annoying will be willing to listen to you. If enough people really, really dislike atheists as a class, they’ll find a way to discriminate against you law or no laws.

    This is basic social psychology and cognitive science. Attacking and ridiculing things people hold dear not only doesn’t persuade them; it tends to cause them to cling more tightly to their beliefs and in-group perspectives.

    The billboards remind me a bit of some of the crap Christian missionaries have pulled in Asia to try to convert people from Buddhism. They’ve handed out leaflets comparing the Buddha to the devil and played loud music incessantly next to temples during holy days. As a result, in some countries, Sri Lanka in particular, there is popular support for passing anti-conversion laws mostly aimed at Christian missionaries.

  39. maha  •  Jul 18, 2014 @11:57 pm

    I also look forward to telling you what’s wrong about it.

    I’d love it if an atheist could read it with an open mind, but I see that won’t be you. I have no interest in converting you or persuading you there’s a God, but I do snark about atheist orthodoxies and dogmas about religion.

  40. Swami  •  Jul 19, 2014 @1:47 am

    Why not the value of those things is in the here and now isn’t it?

    Yes, the value is in the here and now. And I appreciate it in the here and now, but seeing how much work went into creating that value and that it is an irreplaceable value. It just seems wasteful to have it vanish. Maybe I’m expressing a bit of narcissism, but I don’t know how to express my thought any other way.
    Somebody throw me a line here.. Has anybody here had a similar thought or feeling? If so, help me out.

  41. maha  •  Jul 19, 2014 @6:41 am

    Life-and-Death

    Water isn’t created by being ladled into a bucket.
    Simply put, the water of the whole Universe has been ladled into a bucket.
    The water does not disappear because it has been scattered over the ground.
    It is only that the water of the whole Universe has been emptied into the whole Universe.
    Life is not born because a person is born.
    The life of the whole Universe has been ladled into the concrete being called “I.”
    Life does not disappear because a person dies.
    Simply, the life of the whole Universe has been poured out of this concrete “I” back into the Universe

    – Kosho Uchiyama Roshi (Zen teacher)
    1912 – 1998

  42. c u n d gulag  •  Jul 19, 2014 @6:57 am

    ‘We humans are all made of billions of years of star excrement.
    And that’s why I’m full of shit.
    And we ourselves will, in billions of years when our sun explodes or implodes, become part of the Universal Toilet.”

    c u n d gulag (Now is Now – Zen was Zen teacher)
    1958 -

  43. uncledad  •  Jul 19, 2014 @9:02 am

    “Somebody throw me a line here..

    People should believe what they wish, for me pondering the afterlife is an exercise that I do not see value in. We’ll all find out in due time, and as Hillary says: “what difference does it make at this point”. Work hard, be kind to old people, animals and your family the rest will take care of itself. There is a big difference between religion and spirituality, the former has always just looked like crowd control to me!

  44. erinyes  •  Jul 19, 2014 @10:07 am

    I know what you mean, swami. Worse even is when you have a very special talent or skill that is now considered obsolete or something nobody cares about.
    When I moved back to Florida from California, I went to work for a dock builder; he employed several carpenters who were very good on land, but put them in the water or on a work float, and they were pretty useless. I had over 15 years experience in the marine construction field, but they couldn’t be bothered to learn how to tie a bowline. It may sound silly that it’s a big deal, but in water work, the ability to tie one quickly can mean the difference between life and death; ruining a good section of rope at the least.

  45. omar  •  Jul 19, 2014 @11:14 am

    I’d love it if an atheist could read it with an open mind, but I see that won’t be you.

    Since you don’t know me; you have no idea what I’m capable of. But I thank you for showing me such a fine example of Buddhist open mindedness.

  46. omar  •  Jul 19, 2014 @12:55 pm

    Regarding being disliked. Someone who is determined to hate me will find reasons to do so, no matter what I do. I agree that going out of one’s way to be unpleasant is counterproductive. But kissing ass in the hope that maybe I’ll be tolerated is even more so. I am a responsible, good citizen. If that’s not good enough for the ignorant, I don’t care.

    I’m just not as obsessed with appealing to them as you seem to be. Either we all value democracy, and fight for it no matter how we feel about each other, or we don’t really value it at all. If we don’t; no amount of outreach on my part will help.

    BTW: I never said that I supported the billboards. I don’t. What was that about assumptions and insults?

  47. maha  •  Jul 19, 2014 @1:15 pm

    Someone who is determined to hate me will find reasons to do so, no matter what I do.

    True, but why be an asshole to people who haven’t yet formed an opinion? And, seriously, my opinions of you are less important to the health of your own psyche than are your opinions of others. Judging and hating people you don’t know, shoving them into the little pre-constructed cubbyholes in your brain whether they fit or not, is neither healthy nor rational.

    But kissing ass in the hope that maybe I’ll be tolerated is even more so.

    There is a huge middle ground between “being an asshole” and “kissing ass.” I suggest you explore it.

    I’m just not as obsessed with appealing to them as you seem to be.

    Who’s “them”? You don’t seem to have read the post very carefully. All that bigotry blocks your vision, I assume. Let’s take another look at this part:

    …your “target audience,” the people whose minds you are trying to change, are not the hard-right religious extremists, because their minds will not change.

    Your audience is everybody else, religious and not-religious.

    This is the whole point of the Bigger Asshole rule. You are not trying to change the minds of people you directly oppose. You are trying to win everybody else to sympathize with you more than with the people you oppose. Public support and sympathy give you some leverage to actually change things. Not having it means you are whistling in the wind.

    Most people are neither hard-right religious reactionaries nor atheists. Again, there is a vast middle ground that you aren’t seeing. This is the group you are trying to win over, many of whom are offended by the fundies but would also be offended by signs dissing Jesus.

    I never said that I supported the billboards. I don’t. What was that about assumptions and insults?

    Ah. Then your issue is that (a) you cannot express yourself coherently, or (b) you can’t stand advice even if you agree with it, or (c) you just automatically assume anyone with any sympathy whatsoever to religion must be The Enemy. Which is it?

  48. maha  •  Jul 19, 2014 @1:23 pm

    “Since you don’t know me; you have no idea what I’m capable of. But I thank you for showing me such a fine example of Buddhist open mindedness.”

    Omar, you’re the one who said “I look forward to getting your book. I also look forward to telling you what’s wrong about it.” It’s obvious from your own comments here that you are rigidly and thoroughly bigoted and have an animus toward all religious people big enough to devour Cleveland. I don’t want to cut off the conversation, but please review the comment rules (Item 6 in particular). People who are nothing but pains in the ass get banned. And you have no standing to demand that anyone be more tolerant of you than you are willing to be tolerant of them. In these parts, dude, you get back exactly what you dish out.

  49. c u n d gulag  •  Jul 19, 2014 @2:01 pm

    Omar,
    Thanks for coming and giving your opinion. You’ll that we maha-ite’s are a tolerant bunch, if you’re tolerant, too.

    Btw – if you don’t want to read my entire comment above, here’s a brief excerpt (and I hate quoting myself):

    I’m and Agnostic, so, I’m neither a believer, nor a dis-believer.
    Believe what you want, but leave me out of it.
    And I’ll respect your religious beliefs, if you don’t try to convert me and everyone in sight, and tell people how to live and what to do.
    You’re not a real religious believer – you’re an intolerant buttinsky with probably a variety of psychiatric issues!!!

    But I also find a lot of Atheists to be just as dogmatic, and just a ideological and narrow-minded, as their uber-religious counterparts.

    They’re kind of like the Yang, to the religious people’s Ying.

    The way to deal with intolerance, is not your own intolerance.

  50. Swami  •  Jul 19, 2014 @2:06 pm

    Omar… I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and by golly people like me.

  51. kfreed  •  Aug 6, 2014 @6:52 am

    Dang it. I found this post too late, but just in case anyone’s still out there reading comments, I’ve found an atheist ally who isn’t a raging pain in the buttocks. I say this as an atheist who is more than happy to link elbows with religious folk interested in preserving separation of church and state.

    If you haven’t already, meet C.J. Werleman, atheist author, currently contributing weekly to Alternet. The man gets the threat posed by religious fundamentalist teabaggers and is quite on the same page as Maha concerning counterproductive atheist antics.

    C.J. Werleman: “Why Atheists Should Listen to Pope Francis”

    Excerpt: “Atheists like to talk about building a better world, one that is absent of religiosity in the public square, but where is the atheist movement, as defined by the some 2,000 atheist groups and organizations in the U.S., when it comes to dealing with our third-world levels of poverty? Not only is the atheist movement absent on this issue, it is spending thousands of dollars on billboards that make atheists look like assholes, at the same time Catholicism is looking hip again. The Pope has changed the perception of the Church in the minds of millions while the atheist movement has been sucked into the Right’s fictitious ‘war on christmas.'”
    http://www.alternet.org/belief/why-atheists-should-listen-pope-francis

    Maha, I’ll be very interested in your book. Looking forward to reading it.

  52. maha  •  Aug 6, 2014 @7:00 am


    About this blog



    About Maha
    Comment Policy

    Vintage Mahablog
    Email Me


















    Support This Site







    eXTReMe Tracker













      Technorati Profile