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.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

In praise of Dysangelicalism

by Steve Neumann

[This is the first post by our new writer, Steve Neumann, aka Juno Walker. A short bio of Steve can be found on our Contributors page. Welcome aboard Steve!]

Dysangelicalism is an ugly word, but a beautiful concept. Let me explain, by way of a little background first.

I was born into born-again Christianity, aka Evangelicalism, and finally fully extricated myself from it in my mid-twenties. I came of age in the 1980s, during the heyday of the unholy marriage of Evangelicalism and Conservatism. If you don’t know what I mean by this “unholy marriage,” I encourage you to read a post by atheist blogger Libby Anne, entitled “The Merger: Evangelicalism and the GOP.” Anne briefly documents the mutually-corrupting cross-pollination that took place between American politics and religion following WWII. 

The term Dysangelicalism is my awkward coinage loosely based on Nietzsche’s analysis of Christianity in his book The Antichrist. There, Nietzsche employs a bit of liberal psychologizing of Jesus’ teachings (at one point he claims that there was only one Christian, and he died on the cross). But he shows particular vehemence toward the apostle Paul, calling him a dysangel, because he purportedly distorted Jesus’ original intent. Nietzsche claims that Jesus’ essential message was that the Kingdom of God was a state of mind and heart, and not an actual political, social or cultural institution to be realized in the near future — or the far future, for that matter. Nietzsche claimed that what Jesus taught was a “new way of life, not a new faith.”

The reason I bring this up is because it’s been reported that über-Evangelical Rick Warren, of The Purpose-Driven Life fame, is distressed by the fact that the term “evangelical” seems to have transformed into a pejorative political moniker. Welcome to the party, Rick; where have you been? Kidding aside, I welcome this development with open arms because it means, to me, that Christianity (at least of the American variety) is finally beginning to destroy itself from within, somewhat as Nietzsche predicted. Now, I’m not so naive as to believe that this signals a crushing death-blow to Christian hegemony in America. Rick Warren’s star seems to have dimmed in recent years, but he still wields influence in the Evangelical sphere. Nonetheless, this development adds weight to other significant trends in American Christendom.

For instance, we’ve all heard a lot about so-called “millennials,” members of Generation Y. We’ve heard that they are decidedly more liberal in their social attitudes than their parents, especially with regard to things like marriage equality and abortion, and there are many reasons typically put forth about why this is so. Most of my co-workers and friends are of this generation, and I find this to be generally true. But what is most encouraging to me is their repudiation of their parents’ narrow, bigoted approach to their faith. They certainly aren’t atheists, nor necessarily even “nones”; but they represent a progression toward what Nietzsche himself forlornly declared was nearly impossible in his time:

... To wed the bad conscience to all the unnatural inclinations, all those aspirations to the beyond, to that which runs counter to sense, instinct, nature, animal, in short all ideals hitherto, which are one and all hostile to life and ideals that slander the world. To whom should one turn today with such hopes and demands? (On the Genealogy of Morals, Second Essay, Section 24)

In today’s parlance, we could say the goal should be to get people to associate all the bigotry of American Evangelicalism with what is to be scorned, ridiculed and repudiated. Instead of the pariah being the atheist who affirms the veracity of the theory of evolution and the reality of global climate change, for instance, it should be the Bible-believing, Bible-thumping bigot who is met with intransigent intellectual cleanliness, so to speak. Blatantly unfounded metaphysical assumptions, specious reasoning, quasi-journalistic anecdotes proffered as evidence (I’m looking at you, FoxNews), and all the casuistries of religious academics and think tanks like the Discovery Institute should be identified and combated with an unflagging severity.

Now, contra ideological allies like PZ Myers and others at controversial but nonetheless important outlets like Freethought Blogs, who generally engage in ridicule of individual religious believers and are attempting to turn Atheism into a full-fledged worldview (think A+) to compete with faith-based religion, I don’t believe that scathing ridicule of individuals is the best way to change hearts and minds and, ultimately, culture. (Truth be told, I do find it difficult to refrain from ridiculing the Michelle Bachmanns, Rick Santorums, and Pat Robertsons of the world; but in my day to day interactions with religious friends, family and co-workers, I try to limit my attacks to the content of their beliefs and the evidence and arguments they provide in defense of them. Though even then, it’s hard for me not to draw conclusions about their character, given what some of them believe about the world.)

So I praise the rise of Dysangelicalism. I welcome and encourage the instincts of millennials who renounce the faith of their parents and have the courage to strike out on their own paths, however disparate and inchoate they may be, and even if I’d rather have them ultimately embrace a completely naturalistic worldview. Though I suppose the project of changing hearts and minds is a marathon and not a sprint.

And if you have a more resonant term than “Dysangelicalism”, I’d love to hear it!


  1. Thoughtful article, and I can understand your push to get a more naturalistic worldview accepted by the masses. I also agree that many of the New Atheist's have a serious problem when they constantly berate believers and group them all together as incoherent morons. I will say that I myself believe in God, though I should define God as not having anything to do with a personal deity that performs miracles, constantly demanding praise and punishing those who do not believe to eternal damnation. I have grown up in the Greek Orthodox faith, and the community and tradition is something that I would never leave, but I will say that my beliefs are probably the most closely alighted with Deism. There's an interesting article on Sean Carroll's blog Preposterous Universe (http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2013/01/10/father-flanagans-advice-to-the-religious/), where Owen Flanagan is quoted as saying:

    "Believe none of the theology or metaphysics. But be a cultural or ethnic Catholic (the way many Jewish atheists are). Go to Mass, meditate and pray in a Catholic way if you wish, consult the right saints depending on your needs, have fun, etc."

    This is not something that just Catholics can appreciate. I for one will always identify as a Christian because of the strong community that I have grown up in and the fact that even if Jesus was only a man, his teachings are invaluable and his love of all humans is something to be emulated. Whether God is some deep abstract mathematical entity or something altogether ineffable, I still pray to this day, not as a request to a man with a long beard (most religious people I would assume don't view God like that anyway), but as a thanks to something deep and mysterious (perhaps the Universe or some pantheistic, Spinozan ideal?) for leading to my existence and giving me some length of time to appreciate the beauty of the world.

    1. Thanks Pete.

      I certainly understand your sense of gratitude at existence. And I have a lot of respect for Owen Flanagan as well.

      I would say that most of my friends, family and co-workers are in the same boat, spiritually, as yourself; but the loudest fundamentalists seem to dictate (or at least attempt to dictate) socials norms and political policy. And unlike Sam Harris, I don't see more moderate believers like yourself to be a problem per se.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Now, contra ideological allies like PZ Myers and others at controversial but nonetheless important outlets like Freethought Blogs, who generally engage in ridicule of individual religious believers and are attempting to turn Atheism into a full-fledged worldview (think A+) to compete with faith-based religion, I don’t believe that scathing ridicule of individuals is the best way to change hearts and minds and, ultimately, culture.
    Good article until the quoted part. It's nice that you've found a way to feel superior to both ideological allies and enemies. But you ought do it without misrepresenting P.Z. Myers or Atheism+. He doesn't generally engage in the ridicule of beliefs, he attacks beliefs and belittles tools like Ken Ham, not every xtian or muslim he spots in the street. And Atheism+ is just the obvious truism that given one has no religious reason for treating different groups unequal when one is an atheist, then ought not one treat them all equally? I.e. support feminism (the belief that women are equal to men), be against racism, ageism, etc. If that's a full fledged world view, it's weak soup. To me is just seems moral and logical.

    1. Support feminism? Nah. Or how about humanism? Humanism is good enough. And call it humanism. And atheism can mean, belief there are no gods. Period.
      I certainly think feminism in its 3 waves is about a bit more than mere equality. Gender feminists? We atheists should agree with.. what feminists? Andrea Dworkin. LOL.

    2. i think you've never seriously read any of the particularly well-written feminist texts, and that's just a blatant misrepresentation. andrea dworkin is a self-identified "radical feminist" which is a distinct train of thought in feminism. saying all feminists are radical feminists because andrew dworkin was one is the same as saying all philosophers of mind are dualists, because descartes was one.

    3. Typical. You state the obvious and misrepresent what I actually wrote. I didn't say all feminists are radical feminists. *What* feminists I asked. 3rd, 2nd..1st? lol. Well if 1st or 2nd.. just go with good ole secular humanism. And yes I have read feminism. But feminist writings aren't anything to take particular interest in. I'll stick with humanism and avoid the misandric and second rate philosophizing.
      Catharine MacKinnon was among a group of philosophers asked on the Philosophy Bites podcast what her favorite philosophy is and she said it is whoever the last woman she talked to is. Brilliant philosophy. That's a feminist scholar for you.

    4. I'm a tad mystified here. You say you aren't lumping all feminists into a single train of thought category, and you've paid lip service to both those ideas, but what you actually think about feminism implies otherwise when you lump all feminist writnigs into "misandric and second rate philosophizing". misandric writings is radical feminism (a lot of them are proud of being misandrists). second-rate philosophizing goes for a lot of academic feminism, but definitely not all. it's not as simple as 3rd, 2nd, or first, which is similar to saying "*What* philosophers should we listen to? analytic? continental? greek? ...Frederich Nietzsche. LOL." you say you've read feminism, but you sure haven't read it in any detail. have you read "Ain't I a woman?" by bell hooks? given that she's probably the most influential feminist author out there, it'd seem strange to me if you claimed "yes i've broadly read feminist texts" and not read a bell hooks book. what about The Feminine Mystique?

      granted, it isn't hard to list shoddy feminist authors, but it's not particularly hard to list shoddy authors and thinkers in any school of thought. it strikes me as you're not objecting to feminism on the grounds of what you've actually read about it, but the fact that you don't even think it should exist today.

      to which i'd reply that feminism is not truly like a proper academic philosophy field (such as philosophy of mind, language, ethics, metaethics) in which it should be judged as a bunch of people trying to use rational logical arguments to come sort of truthful conclusion. rather, what distinguishes it from humanism and why it is necessary in addition to humanism, is the fact that it is much more an activist ideology. it is more concerned with effecting a change in the world, broadly speaking, than achieving rational coherency. if that sounds like a bad trade-off for activist ideas to you, i'd ask how many activist ideologies would be benefited by everyone stopping their regular activities and attempting to imitate standard philosophy? did the civil rights movement have to do that before their successes?

      when it comes to feminism in addition to humanism, do you think that would have worked for the first wave feminists? that it was all that was necessary? do you think the first wave feminists would have felt that it was enough to just campaign inside groups that said "all people are equal" giving no special attention to inequalities faced by women, or do you think that actually, it would've been much better for them to focus their attentions on their specific concerns and specific issues facing women? that their success was not because they were part of an all encompassing equality crusade group, or because they focused their attention, and inspired change through specifically pursuing feminism as opposed to humanism?

      if you accept that (which i can imagine you just not doing) though, you might still argue "yes, but do we really need that kind of feminism today". what evidence is there that we don't? it seems to me if a very, very large proportion of women all over the world talk as though they don't feel like they're treated equally in society, then that indicates a problem worth thinking more in-depth about, and i really don't think the answer is likely to be "most women in the world are wrong".

      i'd just like to point out that today, the most popular feminist ideology is "liberal feminism", which focuses on women being free to choose as they please, and removing legal discriminations against women, such as laws against birth control and abortions. does that sound like something that would be more successful if it was just subsumed under the general philosophy of humanism, while it had to attend to every other concern of whatever secular humanist groups it was a part of, (which aren't always so much activist groups as they are just general associations)?

    5. PZ's even worse than Mr. Neumann said. First, he and his ilk attack ALL Christians, not just fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals.

      And, PZ (as I have blogged) has even shown himself willing to lie on this issue. His famous "no sexual guilt" blog post of a few years back? He "overlooked" that Unitarians and Jews reportedly have even less sexual guilt than atheists.

      As for the new kids of Atheism Plus? Even worse. A marriage of the more puerile portions of PZ-type thinking with the more puerile portions of nth-wave feminism.

      Not the first time I've questioned something here that Brian has said.


      And, note that I mentioned *conservatve* evangelicals above. Neumann's article fails itself in that it fails to mention liberals who nonetheless consider themselves evangelicals, like Jim Wallis.

    6. @ J. Thanks for your thoughtful, detailed dissection of my admittedly sloppy post. You ask some good questions. I was being too charitable to feminism in only referring to it as philosophy so it isn't like saying:
      "*What* philosophers should we listen to? analytic? continental? greek? ...Frederich Nietzsche. LOL."
      As a political movement I don't know that feminism is necessary to secure rights for women. Mystified are you? I'd say you're pretty clear headed. LOL. Thanks for not being rude.

      I'm always passing stuff around to people.. I just recently discovered this interesting YouTube channel..(u-tube ain't all jackass stunts, babies and cute kitten videos, that's for sure.) If you want to pick at people that don't like feminism check out "Girl Writes What" YouTube channel and knock yourself out-

    7. Haha, Brian, thanks. But seriously, why do you think I feel superior? Don't we all strive to criticize positions with which we don't agree, and attempt to assert our own positions as being definitive (hopefully backed up with good arguments and/or evidence)?

      I don't know PZ Myers personally, so I don't know what he does or doesn't do with religious believers on the street. I've been a long-time reader of PZ's blog, and he even published two of my guest posts awhile back (you can search for "Juno Walker" on his old site at Scienceblogs). Yes, he does revile and ridicule people Ken Ham; but the general tone of his blog, including (and maybe perhaps especially) the comments section, is stridently caustic. And I would argue that the tone of his blog, including the many like-minded readers who contribute to that tone in the comments section of his posts, is what comes through most when people encounter it. Some of his posts have been republished in places like Salon.com, so even readers unfamiliar with Pharyngula will encounter the same tone.

      My main criticism of the concept of Atheism+ is that we already have a term (Naturalism) for what it "stands for"; and there's no denying the pejorative nature of the term "atheism". I'm not saying that we should discard the term "atheism" because some people are offended by it or don't like it; I'm saying that using that term isn't conducive to accomplishing our goal of a more secular society - or at least a society where public policy is guided by secular values.

  4. >And Atheism+ is just the obvious truism that given one has no religious reason for treating different groups unequal when one is an atheist, then ought not one treat them all equally? I.e. support feminism (the belief that women are equal to men), be against racism, ageism, etc. If that's a full fledged world view, it's weak soup. To me is just seems moral and logical.

    Those things just have nothing directly to do with atheism, however moral and logical they may be. How is the nonexistence of god relevant to ageism?

  5. Nice article. My position is similar to the author's in that I'm both non-religious and put off by the tactics, attitudes, and rhetoric of some prominent atheists. Contrary to Brian, I see this as merely a third position rather than "a way to feel superior." This ad hominem of Brian's, along with his ease in calling Ken Ham a "tool" is symbolic of the sort of base rhetoric that turns many non-religious people, who might otherwise be allies, away from what might be called 'strong atheism'. But for me, even if strong atheists were more polite, I would not be onboard. To me it seems that what the strong atheists want is a society that has submitted to "the" scientific worldview wherein their main tactic in this is to make culture hostile to any other worldview. Instances of the hatred between atheists and religious people that prominent atheists have worked to whip up is quite easy to find on the web. Mini Dawkinses et al are everywhere, along with mini versions of relevant foes on the other side I'm sure. There's quite a gap between being non-religious and signing-on to something like this. While I think systems of obvious misinformation should be stopped, I have no problem with diversity of belief. To me far more important that what people believe is that we have a society that tolerates and respects diversity of belief, and which cultivates a sense of human connectedness that transcends differences in doctrine. The value of this is not particularly to improve conditions for religious belief; the thought is rather that once we move in the direction of intolerance, we move in the direction of a dogma that stifles all new or differing ideas. A mentality is being constructed. The logic of how we manage disagreement is far more important to humanity's prospects than the content and distribution of current belief. To me it seems that strong atheists to often seem willing to scrap this logic in favor of "stronger" tactics in promoting their doctrines. However bothersome and inane Ken Ham might be, the higher value of civil discourse means speaking about him with respect. Respect does not mean according merit or agreement, but rather not doing certain things, such as stooping to insult and ad hominems. Generally, I see the strong atheism situation as a symptom of scientism, of trying to rule the world with a mere scientific outlook. Science is just an epistemology. Shaping the world requires a political philosophy and an ethics as well or instead.

    1. yeah this how i feel about the whole modern dawkins-inspired atheism. there's a string of bad dawkins inspired "rationality" going throughout particularly like teenage boys who are otherwise intelligent and into some nerdy things that you can see reflected best on sites like reddit in their "r/atheism" board and whenever they discuss feminism, and the fact that many of a certain breed of nerd are gravitating towards libertarianism - because they've heard "rationality is always good everything that is irrationality is bad", they haven't really thought critically about it because they're teenagers, and assume scientism is true because they feel they can simply say everything else is wrong a priori. i'm speaking from experience because i've been one of them before, and i'm so glad to have actually gotten away from it.

      it's worth noting i've never met anyone interested in strong atheism at all that was over the age of 24. and i've never seen anyone interested in it that wasn't some kind of biologist (with the singular excpetion of chris hitchens).

  6. We are all to some extent victims of our upbringing etc. (I particularly liked the 'Juno Walker' piece, by the way), but what stands out for me in this blog post is its evangelical style. I don't think it's really helpful to mix a defense of naturalism with a particular political stance.

    Sure, you can criticize the evangelical right, but I'm not sure that the best way to do it is via a dysangelical left.

    1. Thanks, Mark.

      I'm not actually suggesting any formal or coordinated political movement to oppose the Republican party or the Religious Right. But what I would like to see, and what I think millennials' attitudes show us, is for terms like "Evangelical", "Bible-believing", "Biblically-based", etc., to take on an opprobrious or pejorative air. To me, having been raised in a culture where those terms were used, these are codewords for the bigotry apparent in the public discourse of prominent Evangelical politicians and pastors relating to marriage equality, women's reproductive rights, and other secular values.

      I also agree with Nietzsche that Christianity in general is essentially a nihilistic religion in that, even on a more moderate interpretation, it depreciates or devalues *this* world in favor of a better world to come, thus potentially retarding potential of the species. Though I think this aspect is more harmful on an individual, psychological level as opposed to a societal level.

  7. "The reason I bring this up is because it’s been reported that über-Evangelical Rick Warren, of The Purpose-Driven Life fame, is distressed by the fact that the term “evangelical” seems to have transformed into a pejorative political moniker. Welcome to the party, Rick; where have you been? Kidding aside, I welcome this development with open arms because it means, to me, that Christianity (at least of the American variety) is finally beginning to destroy itself from within, somewhat as Nietzsche predicted."

    I'd challenge that idea and say that it could simply be reflective of some "evangelical Christians" recognizing that they are being singled out as something which they themselves do not believe reflects who they truly are. Example: Some people might use the term "evangelical Christian" and automatically assume that person is a Republican, GW Bush's biggest fan, bigot, narrow minded, and a denier of woman's rights. Some evangelical Christians, such as Warren, may simply recognize the stereotype that has been given them is not a reflection of who all people who identify as "evangelical" really are. So rather than a sign that Christianity could be destroying itself, I think it's a reaction to the stereotype that's been given (sometimes rightly) of evangelicals. And Warren, who's been quite prominent in the media, is willing to say that is not representative of ALL "evangelicals."

    1. My own experience with those who self-identify as Evangelical Christian also identify as Republican; approve of G.W. Bush's foreign and domestic policies, even if they wouldn't necessarily call him a True Christian™; are narrow-minded essentially by definition - i.e, they take the Bible as the final word on just about every aspect of life, and therefore literally aren't open to other options; and, since they take the Bible literally, therefore would like to see a woman's right to manage her own reproductive health and choices controlled by the government.

      If someone self-identifies as an Evangelical, I would bet money that I would be correct about most of those assumptions above.

  8. Paul of Tarsus was a remarkable man, no doubt about it, and his influence on Christianity was profound. The Christianity we know is an astonishing hodgepodge of religious beliefs and traditions popular in the Roman Empire--Mithraism, the Greek Mystery Religions, the worship of Isis and Magna Mater, somehow merged into or grafted unto Judaism. Paul certainly was familiar with those religions, and in his efforts to Christianize may have tried to render the new religion attractive by spinning them in a pagan fashion, but I doubt there was any plan to absorb these various traditions by Paul or the early Christian Fathers/Church.

    The odd, literal, restrictive, defiantly ignorant and intolerant version of Christianity we see in parts of America is something which will go away eventually, it's to be hoped, but the belief in God is not necessarily objectionable in and of itself, and can be comforting and benign.

    1. I agree that Paul's influence on early Christianity *seems* to have been decisive, but I don't know if I would choose the word "remarkable" as a descriptive for him as a human being - at least given what we know from his letters. His letters leads me to imagine he was a much more miserable human being than even his letters divulge.

      I agree that the a belief in "God" is not something objectionable per se - the few people I know who are comfortable with the term "Deist" tend to be respectful of, or realize the importance of, secular values in society; so my beef isn't with them.

      I believe that the version of Christianity we see in America really is on a downhill slide, and I'm working on another post where I describe the vehement (but essentially vacuous) mien of contemporary Evangelical Christianity as a protracted Skinnerian-style extinction burst.

  9. I am a Christian, and relatively orthodox about it. I check in on this blog from time to time, as I became aware of its owner via a podcast some time ago. I make a habit of also reading the thoughts of many others who hold to belief systems and worldviews dissimilar to my own - because I think it is healthy and fair to do so. I rarely comment in secular and/or humanist forums, because the response is usually so incredibly intolerant and uncharitable.

    I would say that I do hold to many of the moral positions of the Evangelical right, but express few (if any) of their attitudes. This has really won me nothing in terms of a fair hearing or any benefit of the doubt.

    Because I have moral positions on ANY matter tied to the political spectrum, I am apparently intolerant. According to this particular piece, I am a bigot. For example, it doesn't matter that I have never had the first thought of chastising someone who has had an abortion, or that I would never even think of picketing a clinic, much less bombing one. The simple fact that I think the action is a moral wrong is enough to get me branded. And the fact that I am a Christian makes it worse...as if I couldn't have ever come to that moral position apart from my faith.

    I could say the same about the marriage issue. I disagree with same-sex marriage. I could never, however, see myself taking up some call to arms to ensure that some people in our society are barred from doing what they want to do with their lives. But it doesn't matter. My THINKING alone makes me a bigot.

    Now, the strange thing here is that there is a kind of glaring hypocrisy afoot. The claim and assertion that various mindsets are bigoted is itself...bigoted. And how does one get around that with such seeming ease as this particular author: "You don't agree with me? Well that is because your are a bigot. And you are a bigot because you feel this way about such and such." That is, in fact, a rather bigoted position to take.

    This is just the kind of thing we need to be aware of. I realize probably better than anyone here that the Evangelical community is often (usually) sequestered and fearful of anything that does not conform to their "articles of faith."

    But this more recent decision on the part of the thinking secular community to berate, ridicule, and stigmatize people of faith is not helping. It does not have any effect whatsoever but to deepen the line in the sand, and strengthen what is often bullheaded resolve. And the thinking secular community is beginning to look more and more like their Evangelical arch-rivals in this regard.

    1. I don't think Steve Neumann's post states that one is a bigot merely for holding a particular belief (I don't know whether Unknown refers to another post or piece. Intolerance must be active, and if there is no intolerance there is no bigotry. In my opinion, it would be ideal if as to matters regarding God one would either believe or disbelieve, and be silent.

    2. Thanks for the comment, Cicero...I hope that your interpretation of the post is correct, and that I am maybe presuming upon the author a bit too much.

      I do like your description of intolerance quite a lot - that it does not entail a mere contrary belief, but an active discrimination against another based on that belief (something I am pretty deliberate in avoiding).

      I think most people (maybe even yourself) would find expressions of belief or disbelief in relation to God to be a more agreeable thing if both sides could respect each other a bit more. Some of the best, most fruitful, most beneficial, most stimulating, and most educational conversations (for both sides) I have ever engaged include conversations with committed atheists who were willing to take on the subject of God with me in a conversational manner.

      The key to those conversations was a mutual respect, an absence of reaction, talking to - not past - one another, and and a realization that neither side was speaking from a place of irrationality, but rather had some decent (if not compelling) reasons for what they had come to think is true.

      I am convinced the trouble starts when we move from discussion and conversation to trying to win an argument and getting into these attempts at intellectual, philosophical, or psychological arm twisting (and this happens on both sides).

      The subject is deeply compelling, no matter which side one is on. Sure is a shame that believers and unbelievers have habitually dealt with one another in such an unkind and disrespectful way that people have (rightfully) come to a place that they simply want nothing to do with the subject.

    3. Self-righteousness is the most contemptible human characteristic, and we see it on both sides of this interminable dispute. Unfortunately, self-righteousness is the dominant trait of those of us who can't mind their own business and long to tell others what to think and do.

    4. Unknown -

      Can you elaborate a little bit for me why you say there is a difference between "moral positions" and "attitudes"? To my lights, they're pretty much synonyms.

      To me, the term "bigot" implies someone who is obstinately certain of their beliefs despite the inadequacy of their evidential or logical foundations. In other words, someone who lives by the mantra "God said it; I believe it; that settles it" - and I've encountered otherwise thoughtful people who have admitted to me that this is what it all comes down to for them - is a bigot in my opinion, especially when it concerns "sins" that don't have an ill effects on others - e.g., gay marriage.

      Of course, I take more umbrage at a person who acts on his bigotry than one who merely holds bigoted beliefs. I find these beliefs annoying, but there are friends (and family) whom I love despite some of the beliefs they hold - and they love me despite my atheism ;)

      I don't consider everyone who disagrees with me to be a bigot. If it's an issue important to me, I will try to engage that person in dialectic in order to (hopefully) effect some change in their position. If they can marshall good evidence and/or arguments for their position, then I feel we have the intellectual territory necessary for a discussion. But if they ultimately resort to scriptural, traditional, or "revealed" sources, then I really have nothing to say to them, and I am more likely to label them a bigot.

    5. Juno,

      By your definition, everyone is bigoted to some degree. We are all "obstinately certain" about things we haven't given sufficient thought. Your description of bigotry is a bit subjectively defined, and works more toward your own individual perception of reality.

      Think of the position you are putting people in: if they hold to a particular belief you do not agree with, and they are unable to articulate their reasons for holding to said belief to your satisfaction, they are a bigot.

      Such an attitude holds others to unreasonable and self-centered expectations?

      First, there is your irritation that someone holds to a belief that doesn't sit right with you. Then if they cannot satisfactorily articulate a reason that meets your standards, they are subjugated to your label: bigot. I would cautiously say this strikes me as self-righteous.

      One can hold to a moral positions that assess certain behaviors or thoughts as objectively wrong, while still expressing a gracious, tolerant disposition.

      Why do you exercise such an attitude as the one you stated toward someone who appeals to scripture or revelation as their reason for their position?

      You said, "A bigot is someone who is obstinately certain of their beliefs despite the inadequacy of their evidential or logical foundations."

      What is your logical foundation for writing off these people as not worth your time? This is just an emotional response, not a logical one. Such discrimination (even if it's just intellectual discrimination) is the kind of behavior most people think of when they imagine "bigotry."

      All a person needs to be rational is a "reason" for their belief. It might not ultimately be a good reason. But bad reasoning does not make one irrational. That is a problem with the atheist's assessment of faith. And it gets worse when the reasons for faith are actually good.

      If someone believes in God for a reason, then they have a logical basis for accepting God's revelation. Again, their reasons might not be great reasons, but once reason is established, the logic is clear.

      Regardless, provided that people are not manifesting behavior that harms others, people should be free to believe what they want with or without evidence or logical supports, and to hold those beliefs without being openly ridiculed.

      Intellectual freedom is the most fundamental of all freedoms. Intellectual freedom means I am free to be utterly, totally, and completely me, provided none of my beliefs or tendencies manifest in such a way that harm is visited upon another. If you cannot deal with someone you deem a bigot, then you ultimately do have a problem with intellectual freedom.

      If one values intellectual freedom, they can celebrate just about anyone - even while disagreeing with them vehemently. There are some exceptions, sure. I cannot celebrate raw hate. But raw hatred is not a belief. Belief is just a bullet in the gun of hatred, locked and ready to be discharged.

      Usually, the people who scare me are not the ones with illogical or even anti-social beliefs. The ones who scare me are the ones who subtly (or openly) assert that they are superior to others simply because they exercise "reason" more adeptly. But I can even celebrate such as these, because when such a mind matures it can be an incredible thing to see in motion.

      All people have value. That goes for the professor who makes his or her bread by living in the theoretical realm, as well as the simpleton who believes something noxious to most other people simply because "that is how his folks always done it."

      Ease up and give grace, mercy, and leeway. This does not mean you have to agree with everyone. You don't have to take everything everyone thinks seriously. Just do your best to treat everyone as a serious human being.

    6. Unknown-

      If a person is unable to articulate sufficient reasons (i.e., by reasonable standards of evidence, etc.) why they believe what they do - *especially* if it involves religious intolerance - then they are most certainly a bigot. We all demand reasonable evidence from each other in most areas of our lives; we don't let others slide when it comes to things that are important to us. I don't let it slide when it comes to religious beliefs. Ideas have consequences, and I believe religious beliefs have harmful consequences.

      If you obstinately believe that Burgundy produces the best wine, while I obstinately believe that Bordeaux produces the best, we may have a vigorous debate; and while we both would expect the other offer logical arguments and good evidence for our positions, I wouldn't consider you a bigot.

      "First, there is your irritation that someone holds to a belief that doesn't sit right with you. Then if they cannot satisfactorily articulate a reason that meets your standards, they are subjugated to your label: bigot. I would cautiously say this strikes me as self-righteous."

      If someone holds a belief that expresses intolerance for something I value, then I would consider them a bigot. My standards are the standards of the scientific method; I didn't invent them, but I subscribe to them because of their success in prediction and control of the natural world, which implies that they track reality - much better than a religious method does.

      "One can hold to a moral positions that assess certain behaviors or thoughts as objectively wrong, while still expressing a gracious, tolerant disposition."

      Certain behaviors, yes. But if you believe it's OK to forbid same-sex couples from marrying, then I will not express a tolerant disposition. I can still be gracious, but I will work to combat your belief as best I can.

      "Why do you exercise such an attitude as the one you stated toward someone who appeals to scripture or revelation as their reason for their position?"

      Because they have no philosophical or scientific warrant. There is no good evidence that anything supernatural exists. I'm open to it; but to incur a change of belief in me would require extraordinary counter-evidence.

      "What is your logical foundation for writing off these people as not worth your time?"

      It depends which people you're talking about. Fundamentalist Christians like Pat Roberson, Rick Warren, Michelle Bachmann, etc., can easily be dismissed due to what you might call Hitchen's Maxim: that which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. I've met evangelicals who have said, "God said it; I believe it; that settles it." I have nothing intelligent to say to these people because they offer me nothing intelligent. They can be dismissed. I've read Warren's "The Purpose-driven Life" and found it to be inadequate. It is the same thing I already learned growing up in a fundamentalist church; and since I thoughtfully considered that worldview and subsequently rejected it, I reject Warren's "theology".

      I do not, however, dismiss religious believers who have good reasons for what they believe, or who are searching for good reasons. I regularly read Christianity Today. I engage with people like yourself, since you appear to be a thoughtful believer. Etc. So I don't summarily dismiss people. I meet them, assess them, and depending on the result of that assessment, dismiss them or engage with them...

    7. ...

      "All a person needs to be rational is a "reason" for their belief. It might not ultimately be a good reason. But bad reasoning does not make one irrational."

      If someone claims that lemongrass helps with digestion because every time they eat it, it helps their digestion, then that's not irrational. We can set up a research protocol to test its veracity. But let's consider an example from Donald Miller, Christian and author of popular books like "Blue Like Jazz". In that book he makes claims like the following:

      “I could sense very deeply that God wanted a relationship with Laura”

      “I feel like He is after me”

      “I feel as though I need to believe”

      “I could feel that God was answering my prayer so I went”

      “I felt like God was saying that if I had faith she would marry me”

      “I don’t believe I will ever walk away from God for intellectual reasons”

      If Donald Miller were simply someone I met on the subway, or in Starbucks, someone with no real cultural influence, I would dismiss him based on these assertions. But he does wield cultural influence - he delivered the closing prayer at the 2008 Democratic Convention, and serves on President Barack Obama's Task Force on Fatherhood and Healthy Families; and in light of this I'm working on another essay to combat people like him (e.g., Francis Collins).

      I don't know if you're familiar with Miller, but here's another excerpt from his book for you to consider: "Penny is living proof that Jesus still pursues people.” He claims that Penny is *proof* that Jesus not only exists but interacts with human beings. Here's Penny's story: Apparently Penny had an unusual experience while studying in France, where she met one of Miller’s other Christian friends, Nadine. He claims that Penny wanted nothing to do with religion. But her and Nadine hit it off because Nadine was very interested in Penny’s past. As a result of their blossoming friendship, Nadine’s type of Christianity became intriguing to Penny and they would have many conversations about it. Penny started reading the bible with Nadine, and they would eat chocolate and smoke cigarettes together while reading. Then, one night, Penny was “pretty drunk and high,” and claimed to have heard God speak to her. God allegedly said, “Penny, I have a better life for you, not only now but forever.”

      Since we know that schizophrenics also hear voices, even when *not* drunk and high, we can be fairly certain that Penny did not hear God's voice...

    8. ...

      What disturbs me most, however - and what I would combat if I met someone like Miller, even if he didn't have cultural influence - is the following statement by Miller in "Blue Like Jazz":

      “I would die for the gospel because I think it is the only revolutionary idea known to man.”

      First of all, not only is Jesus' life *not* the only revolutionary idea known to man (it was only "revolutionary" to the immediate religious and cultural milieu of Jesus' community, if the gospels can be trusted at all, which I doubt), but his statement should give pause to those who love him (would he really sacrifice his life for Jesus?), but for society as a whole (would he harm *others* based on his belief?).

      I agree with Nietzsche when he writes:

      "A kind of honesty has been alien to all founders of religions and others like them: they have never made their experiences a matter of conscience for knowledge. 'What did I really experience? What happened in me then, and around me? Was my reason bright enough? Was my will turned against all deceptions of the senses and was it courageous in its resistance to the fantastic?' - none of them has raised such questions; all the dear religious people still do not raise such questions even now: rather, they have a thirst for things that go against reason, and they do not want to make it too hard for themselves to satisfy it. And so they experience 'miracles' and 'rebirths' and hear the voices of the little angels!" - The Gay Science [319]

      It describes people like Miller perfectly.

  10. The usual problem with these criticisms of religion is that they go to far. Read Berlinski and others who understand that is it illogical to believe / speculate one way or another about something you cannot even define using knowledge / facts. Steve, you might be too close to the issue, being so far one way and now so far the other, and you may have been affected by the illogicality and ignorance of evangelists. However, don't make the same mistake yourself - logically you can only say, at best, that God is outside of known facts rather than inconsistent with them. Its called Agnosticism, and its the only logical approach. Atheism is clearly faulty logic.

    1. There's a giant, immaterial bunny living outside the observable universe. Technically I'm agnostic about it. Technically I give it about 0.000000001% probability of being true. But practically, I give really don't believe that such a giant bunny exists. It's not faulty logic.It's sensible thinking.

    2. Fred,

      I agree with much of the spirit of what you say but I think you're using the word 'knowledge' in a rather narrow way. The notion of knowledge is broader than scientific knowledge yet you seem to use the word to mean just scientific knowledge. This effectively gives your definition of agnosticism the same sort of problem that you take atheism to have: as atheists claim to know what can't be known (God's non-existence), you claim to know that God can't be known to exist, which equally seems something that we can't know. How do we know that there aren't such things as divine revelation, etc? Seems a better definition of agnosticism is "not knowing oneself," as opposed to "taking God to be unknowable."

    3. Fred -

      I can't speak for others who have transitioned from a completely religious worldview to a completely secular one, but my own path was protracted, assiduous, and vacillating. And I'm aware of the temptation to dive into the opposite position which, to me, is more likely to occur due to the influence of the emotions that have been built up.

      But as with any strongly-held position, one desires to expose and criticize the faults of the opposing view, forewarn and influence fence-sitters, and attempt to dissuade and persuade one's opponents - especially if it's an issue that affects society at large. I don't believe that is "going too far".

      Regarding epistemology: I can't say that I *know* God doesn't exist; but I can say that the Abrahamic God *almost* certainly doesn't exist, based on its own definition(s). And I hold to the "dictionary" view of the term "atheist": that is, a person who lacks belief in God.

  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. The secret to the marriage of evangelical Christianity and the Republican Party (read the party platform) is economic: Evangelicals became the spokespeople for the belief that government social programs and wealth redistribution are "evil" because they would attempt to usurp God's invisible hand. I don't think there is going to be any kind of divorce any time soon.

    1. Philip, that is not entirely accurate. The last statement I mean. I do not fit that paradigm, and there are large, large numbers of believers who attend Evangelical churches who do not.

      I think that these more left-leaning Evangelicals will become more visible in the next few decades. The biggest obstacle to them be heard right now is that atheists don't believe they exist!

      They are becoming very visible "within" the church, but given time, they will also become know without. Tony Campolo, Shane Claiborne, and numerous others. Check them out.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.