We aim to misbehave

Pharyngula waxes lyrical against the apologist whinging that some atheists are hurting the cause by being too forthright and vocal, by exploring the example of the suffragettes fighting for the right to vote. He makes a good point – there has never been a revolution against pointless tradition that did not come with impassioned speeches that could blister paint. There has never been a stand made against injustice that didn’t involve harsh words. And rightly so, for the more ingrained the status quo, the harder one must shout and fight and kick and scream to be heard above the earshattering din of conformity. One only has to think of the fights against the oppression of women, against slavery, against apartheid… why should the fight against religious indoctrination be any less proud?

PZ puts forth the following analogy for those who believe that atheists should employ more etiquette and politesse in their dealings with the religious oppressors:

Successful revolutionaries ignore the admonitions about which fork to use for their salad because they care only to grab the steak knife as they launch themselves over the table.

Of course, for atheists the steak knife is a figurative one. For most revolutionaries of the past, it was very, very literal, and usually followed by the molotov coctail and the machine gun. The other side should count themselves lucky that we are reserved enough to draw the line at calling them flaming idiots, instead of actually setting them on fire. But the point has never been to calm us, it’s been to shut us up entirely.

They won’t stop until we’re completely silent, and there’s no point in compromise, so these faint-hearted enablers of superstition are going to have to excuse us if we ever so politely request that they go fuck themselves, beg pardon, and please, use a rolled-up copy of the Republican party platform to do it, if you don’t mind, thank you in advance.

In a time of revolution, the opposite of anger isn’t peace – it’s apathy.

19 Responses to “We aim to misbehave”

  1. One of the advantages of athiesm is that the invitations to polite dinner parties start to dry up once the battle lines are drawn. A few rousing choruses of “god is imaginary” will do that.

  2. and if you’re ever invited back, they certainly won’t be serving steak.

  3. Con-Tester Says:

    … nor humble pie for dessert. Expect everything flambé, too.

    If true, the observation that there tends to be a differential in restraint between atheists and their opponents would raise again the question of how rationality and morality interact. In itself, such a connection would be an unwelcome dinner party guest – like the bloke who brings a cockroach ragout starter.

  4. Perhaps we should actually keep quiet and stop trying to ‘enlighten’ others. I believe atheist’s worldview captures reality more accurately than others and maybe we should reap the benefits of being immune to irrational beliefs rather than wasting time sharing.
    On a more altruistic note, I often envy the comfort and warmth that religion seems to provide. A universe without ultimate purpose is a bit of a cold place and it might not be such a good deed to try and strip people naked.

  5. Aquoibon, look up the Humanist variety of atheism – basically believing the potential of humankind. It’s very short on “cold place” rhetoric.

  6. Thanks Andy,

    I have come across the humanist atheism point of view but I still struggle to understand how it is possible to reconcile notions like moral values or, ultimately, free will with the knowledge/assumption that the human mind is determined by underlying physics. It does sound to me like a belief patch for meaning deprived atheists.

  7. Con-Tester Says:

    Scientist Finds the Beginnings of Morality in Primate Behavior.

    The utilitarian conception of morality: If I treat the people around me well, then I can reasonably expect that they will reciprocate, and therefore “moral” behaviour benefits everyone in the group in which it is exercised. No divine guidance or authorship is required because such “moral” behaviour is self-promoting.

    As for “free will,” it remains a deep philosophical mystery. Putting god into the equation doesn’t solve anything; in fact, you run into the paradox

  8. Con-Tester Says:

    Curses!

    … in fact, you run into the paradox that an omniscient god presents to free will.

    “[A] belief patch for meaning-deprived atheists.” Hmm, why should there be any meaning or purpose beyond that which we ourselves seek to impose on the real world from our own point of view? We do so in any case only in an attempt to make sense of the world’s caprices, so you first need to put forward a plausible case for such meaning being able to exist independent of our beliefs about the world.

  9. aquibon: one could also envy the comfort that comes with taking heroin, but it’s not something you’d want for your children, no matter how bad their problems are. At the end of the day, dealing with the reality of life, no matter how hard, is the only path to growth as a human being. Hiding away in drugs or fairy tales that make everything seem better is not going to solve your problems. On the other hand, embracing the world as it is, rather than as you wish it could be, brings with it a joy and a respect for life that is hugely rewarding. My life is full of meaning – i love my family and my friends, i have empathy for others, i take pride in the achievements of humanity, and i am in awe at the grandeur of the universe. I don’t need to make up stories about why something is, in order to enjoy deeply that it is. And don’t think that religion has an answer anyway – they say ‘god made it all’, but that only opens the question of who made god. You’re not explaining anything, you’re just avoiding the question.

    If you really wonder how atheism can be tied to morality, just think on this – to an atheist, this is the only life we have, and the only thing that will ever matter is how we behave to others in this life, because the memory of others is the only place where we survive after death. Atheists do not believe that ‘nothing matters’ so they can behave how they want – on the contrary, they believe that your behaviour in this life is the only thing that can matter, so you’d better think long and hard on it.

    On the other hand, religion tells you that there is life after death, and even if someone suffers horribly in this life they may be rewarded in the next. That means that how you behave to others now doesn’t really matter, because either they’re going to hell anyway and deserve it, or they’re going to heaven and your treatment of them isn’t going to change that. And if all you really care about is your own punishment or reward, you can always just ask god to forgive you.

    I know which outlook i see as leading to a higher morality. But then again I don’t picket funerals, tell gay couples they can’t get married, deny children life saving blood transfusions or medical treatment, or fly planes into buildings, so maybe my idea of what’s moral is all messed up.

  10. Aquoibon Says:

    Hi Con-Tester,

    I agree all the way with your arguments :

    1 – tit for tat strategy is a very likely precursor of moral behaviour
    2 – an omniscient being would know the outcome of my future decisions, therefore either I do not have free will or there is no such being

    My point was more that, even though I can’t make a plausible case for it, I can recognise in myself and others needs for absolute truth, purpose and meaning. As insulting to intelligence as it is, the belief in god, for those able to overlook its obvious flaws, can fulfill those needs. On top of that, it must feel quite comforting to believe that there is a benevolent being looking out for your best interest. Atheism definitely lacks that cuddly factor religion can provide.

  11. Aquoibon Says:

    Eish, me again, sorry to take over your comments Moonflake.

    I do agree with you and it’s pretty much how I live my life too. But if I try and understand the reason why I behave that way, I can’t help but going back to ethology 101 and picture that behaviour evolve from our distant ancestors to ourselves, passed along through genetic and cultural transmission, for no other reason than being one that promotes better survival chances to it’s carrier. All I’m trying to say is that there is no valid reason to behave morally, there are explanations as why we do but there is nothing intrinsically wrong in say killing, raping or stealing.

  12. i agree with you on your last point – there is not absolute morality (whatever the followers of Ayn Rand’s cult might want you to think). There is no inate ‘good’ and ‘evil’ as far as the universe is concerned. These are purely social constructs, which make our lives and the lives of others generally easier to live. And that is the very reason why it’s possible for an atheist to be moral – because the very definition of morality is a social one, not an absolute one handed down by a big beard in the sky.

  13. residentRsole Says:

    Aquoibon: I agree with you especially with your statement “nothing intrinsically wrong in say killing, raping or stealing”. Nasty but true.

    moonflake: There is an Ayn Rand cult ??? I am only halfway through “Atlas Shrugged” but it is boring me to tears.

    Anyway, there may not be absolute morals but I have read that there are two basic rules for building a civilised society. They are:

    1. Respect other people’s property
    2. Do all that you agreed to do

    Of course, it says nothing about how people in this society might feel about it each other or their environment but I think that these two rules are good enough. I wonder what the game theorists have to say.

  14. residentRsole Says:

    P.S. Is there an equivalent of the Templeton Prize for atheists ?

  15. Con-Tester Says:

    Yes, there is.

    It’s called the “Nobel”.

  16. residentRsole Says:

    Con-Tester: Initially, I thought that the Nobel and similar awards might be a counter to the Templeton Prize. (I know that the Templeton Prize is meant to be always higher than the money awarded by the Nobel Prize). Dawkins says in his book, “The God Delusion” that there are no Nobel laureates in the sciences who were religious.

    But I am interested in something more specific to atheism and skepticism. Is there an award for an individual or group that actively combats superstition and religion ? Now that I think about it, if there were, James Randi and Richard Dawkins would have won it by now or set up the award themselves.

  17. it’s called objectivism, and while they don’t consider themselves a cult, they show all the hallmarks of one in their dealings with others and their unquestioning hagiography of Rand herself. Michael Shermer, himself an ex follower of her thinking, summarises it thus:

    “nature exists independent of human thought. Reason is the only method of perceiving this reality. All humans seek personal happiness and exist for their own sake, and should not sacrifice themselves to or be sacrificed by others. And laissez-faire capitalism is the best political-economic system for the first three to flourish”

    And he goes on to say:

    “The cultic flaw in Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism is not in the use of reason, or in the emphasis on individuality, or in the belief that humans are self motivated, or in the conviction that capitalism is the ideal system. The fallacy in Objectivism is the belief that absolute knowledge and final Truths are attainable through reason, and therefore there can be absolute right and wrong knowledge, and absolute moral and immoral thought and action. For Objectivists, once a principle has been discovered through reason to be True, that is the end of the discussion. If you disagree with the principle, then your reasoning is flawed. If your reasoning is flawed it can be corrected, but if it is not, you remain flawed and do not belong in the group. Excommunication is the final step for such unreformed heretics.”

    It’s sort of funny that a philosophy based on individualism can lead to a cult, but that’s humans for you.

  18. residentRsole Says:

    moonflake: Have these Objectivists heard of Godel’s theorem ? Are they claiming that their philosphical proofs are 100% correct ? For example, I read that the mathematics community is very confident that the Poincare Conjecture was proved by Perelman but they are not 100% sure (This may have changed. I haven’t checked).

    It’s sort of funny that a philosophy based on individualism can lead to a cult, but that’s humans for you.

    Reminds me of the following dialogue from Monty Python’s Life of Brian:

    Brian: Look, you’ve got it all wrong! You don’t NEED to follow ME, You don’t NEED to follow ANYBODY! You’ve got to think for your selves! You’re ALL individuals!
    The Crowd: Yes! We’re all individuals!
    Brian: You’re all different!
    The Crowd: Yes, we ARE all different!
    Man in crowd: I’m not…

  19. Alexander Says:

    I stumbled upon your website and thought I’d reply to this discussion though I’m a few months late.

    I believe in God, the one of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to be clear. The one Christianity,Judaism, and Islam all stem from. The core three who are brothers who can’t get along so to speak. Each one wants favor with the eternal one. But each forgets the very commandments that God has given to them. All of them are wrong in their ways in my opinion. But some are favored over others its written. Much like a firstborn child is favored over the others – so Israel, or the tribe of Jerusalem is favored, and yet it has the biggest responsibility in that sense. Then you have Islam which is the odd sort of strange child of the family which seems to forget where they come from and who their true God is – the same one as the Jews. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So this leads them to these doctrines of hate and lies. Especially the bit about their religion being the only religion and only faith; Whereas their roots are in the same God as the Jews and Christians. Ironic Godly humor I suppose therein.

    To further on this. So you have Jesus Christ. Call him what you like, or believe what you like about his existence. His words are more important than those irrelevant speculations or what faith you might have or have not. So he comes to the Jews, and He is a Jew himself. He speaks to the Pharisees, he calls them out on their traditions that are harmful. He says woe to the pharisees, o ye hypocrites and so forth. So then the Jews deny Jesus! Much like the Islamic people deny Jews AND Christians. Is the intolerance any surprise?

    So Jesus is a living example of what happens to people who think outside of traditions and outside of their box. (Television for example is a box) Lets say that God is a lie or misconception. For instance we are all a random equation or certain equation in time, then surely if we are random then why do we have perception is the question that comes to mind nearly always. Is this a grand deception too? Are we as ants in the ant hill with only the understanding of what we can understand? I suppose it makes sense in a way. Perhaps we are such as that. Merely a piece of sand in God’s sandals that falls out in a blink of an eye that lasts for an unmeasurable amount of time. Do ants see time the same as we do? And we like ants are so small that we can’t see God right in front of us – or worse yet, we run away when we truly do! Maybe we should fear God in that literal sense!

    In another saying that relates; Perhaps we are as a fruit in a garden of another race of people much beyond our perception. We’re merely a piece of fruit in the garden that contracted a virus; It may spread and our creator or caretaker must make a choice. Vengeance or mercy? Will he keep applying the voices of reason to the people, or will He pluck us out of our seats and wash us away in hopes that in due season we’ll be new again. In other words: Let there be light or darkness? Perhaps a little coaxing and polishing of nations would do the trick!

    I would like to think, perhaps the world of peace, the golden age is something as you say people can accomplish, but sometimes I look around. I don’t see brotherly love. I don’t see charity, or people giving. To give is everything in life. To love is golden. To do unto others as you would have done unto you is priceless. That’s what Jesus is. That’s what he taught in my opinion. That’s what escapes those with eyes to see and ears to hear. The meaning of peace and unconditional love. Moreover the meaning of turning the cheek to ‘evil.’ I think Ghandi is a good example of humanity in that sense.

    I suppose it’s all an elaborate scheme, a puzzle with the pieces mysteriously gone missing; or are they missing? Maybe just invisible and beneath the eyes.

    Either way thanks for reading. And in all fairness we all go our own ways in life. In a sense I understand atheism. That’s another key to life, understanding each other in my opinion. but I digress, what do I know? Maybe one day if I make it to a ripe old age I’ll be able to look at my children and their children and hopefully their lives will be great, Maybe by then greed and corruption won’t be so prosperous. Maybe people will stop worshiping the false idol of money as a God. Being the age of twenty that I am. I see this world if it doesn’t leave a bitter taste in God’s mouth, then it certainly does in mine. It’s important to always hope and dream for better though. There’s a saying that God is simplicity. I think perhaps that’s a lesson in itself. I suppose I failed as soon as I turned on the computer.🙂

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