About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Starbucks, pro-gay, pro-Jesus?

OK, this is even more annoying than Starbucks' way overrated, and certainly overpriced, coffee. A New York Times article by Damien Cave points out that the ubiquitous java joint has gotten into the "business" of offering inspirational messages to their customers. My personal dis-favorite is, obviously, the one about to be featured soon -- a quote by Rick Warren that says "You were made by God and for God, and until you understand that, life will never make sense."

What? I was most certainly (ok, very very likely) not made by anyone other than my mother and father having sex (as alien as the latter thought might seem to me now). And it is absolutely obvious to me that life will not make any more (in fact, a great deal less) sense once I embrace God (and which god would that be, anyway?).

Things aren't made much better by the fact that Starbucks has been aiming also at customers on the other side of the ideological divide. Frankly, I'm not particularly turned on by cups of coffee that read "My only regret about being gay is that I repressed it for so long," by Armistead Maupin. I frankly don't give a damn whether Armistead Maupin is gay or glad. I just want my coffee, possibly a little less expensive and a tiny less bitter. May I, please?


  1. Ok, this is a bit of a nit-pick. Plus I'm just looking to simulate some comments on this tread (even if I end up astray from the topic of the post)

    In your title you refer to "pro-Jesus", but nowhere in your post was Christianity specifically referred to, although "God" was. You just assumed that the God was of the Christian variety. Well, you are most likely correct, but that's not really the point.

    This is the reverse of the error that many Christians make when I engage them in a religious debate. When defending their beliefs, they almost immediately jump to questions like "how do I explain our collective existence (meaning Life, the Universe and Everything)?" To which I always reply "what's that got to with Christianity". You see, they automatically associate the concept of a Supreme Being with the God of their Bible.

    Although I am agnostic, in order to return to a discussion of their specific religion, I usually for the sake of argument assume that there is a Creator and then proceed to debate how and why anyone would think that fact leads to or supports their specific religion. One of my favorite thought experiments is that the whole universe is a mathematical simulation in the mind (or computer) of some other Being. The Being in question simply mathematically defines a basic particle with certain properties (a superstring for example) and then imagines an infinite number of these particles at time zero -- the big bang. The rest of our Universe proceeds from there. It doesn't have to be a Being either - it could be any physical manifestation that can compute.

    Anyway, I digress (its getting late) and no I don't believe any of that. Its just a thought experiment for fun. As far as I'm concerned, there is no evidence of God or a Supreme Being, so until there is I'll just leave it at that.

    But I do want to make one more point. We spend a lot time arguing about whether or not God or a God exists. I say, such arguments (while fun) are really pointless. Non belief in God is not necessary for the kind of society we rational secularists would like to live in. The only requirement is that our lives, societies and policies are guided by reason, objectivity and empirical evidence. Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, both Deists, believed in a Creator, yet we would all welcome them as friends, neighbors or statesmen because the valued reason above all. As you said yourself a few posts ago -- its not the belief in God that's a problem, but ideology, dogma and lack of rational thought.

    Indeed, sometimes I think the Godless angle of the general secular humanist movement (i.e. Brights, or whatever people like to call themselves) is counter-productive. It turns the masses off. Many people would be more readily agreeable to dumping ideology, dogma and religion if they could hold onto some belief in a deistic or pantheistic supreme being. Then over time, many would take the next step to agnosticism or atheism. But pushing people to make the full leap to atheism all at once I think more often backfires. Take the Nedow suit over the Pledge of Allegiance. Has that helped the secular movement or merely rallied the faithful to an even more hardened position?

  2. It's funny, I came really close to bringing up the same issue on the thread concerning rationality vrs. irrationality. So thanks for stealing my idea. (Kidding, you have to state that sometimes.)

    Not to sound like Pollyanna, but I wish we could come to some sort of a compromise on that issue. I don't define my patriotism by faith (or by flags) but others do. Wouldn't it be better if we could leave that part of the pledge open, kind of like a moment of silence, where you could say anything you wanted, or nothing at all. That way, if you want to come right out and say "Under Jesus" you can or "Under Carl Sagan" if you prefer.

    Maybe I like the middle ground too much.


  3. Alan,

    good catch about the Jesus-God thing, and I actually thought about it when I posted the comment. Jesus somehow sounded better in the title, and -- as you say -- in this country the two are almost synonymous...

    As for progressives who are deficient in critical thinking, yes that does happen quite a bit, which is why my reference to progressive blogs (in a different post) had a question mark next to it.

  4. alan wrote: "But pushing people to make the full leap to atheism all at once I think more often backfires."

    I've seen this sentiment expressed several times, all in ways that imply a difficult move from theism to atheism. I guess it's obvious that it must be true... just look around, but I don't quite understand why. For me the leap was both easy and unavoidable. No difficulty, no emotion (no negative emotion anyway), no regrets.

    As for Starbucks, if you are pro-everything, are you really pro-anything? At least Chick-Fil-A is open about their one-sided Christian stance. Of course I don't patronize their establishments but then they are probably happy about that. Starbucks is not on my approved vendor list either but that's just because I hate the taste of coffee and have no need to buy their other high priced offerings.

  5. Just as a postscript I would add that, here in England, Starbucks are not doing anything like this. But religion is far less populist here. I guess that proves they aren't doing it out of principals but simply as a marketing ploy.


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