Archive for June, 2010

Sunday Sermon: Mere tolerance

Coke Talk has a pointed, arguably “strident,” reply to a Christian who objects to being lumped in with Christians who are closed-minded, just because they happen to share the same fundamental belief system:

“You’re not doing me any favors by not condemning me. That sentiment isn’t an expression of open-mindedness. It’s an expression of tolerance, and you know what? Fuck your tolerance. I don’t need it.”

That’s an interesting point, and it works both ways. Perhaps we should make it clearer to Christians that that’s our attitude toward them — mere tolerance.  Tolerance doesn’t mean “I accept you,” it merely means “I accept the fact that I have to put up with you.”

It’s a Menckenian “respect” that conveys respect for the person with the belief, rather than respect for the belief itself. It’s a respect for the right to be wrong — one of America’s most cherished rights, and one of its most often exercised ones.

It’s kind of a minimal requirement of civilized behavior, perhaps offered only grudgingly. Do I have a right to be offended by mere tolerance? Sure. Do I have a right to demand anything more? Probably not.

(pic via His Scrivener)

Keep the “free” in “freethinking”

This isn’t really directly related to etiquette, but I’ve been thinking a little about former Muslim and current atheist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who supports the Swiss in banning minarets and who says Muslim women must renounce Islam even if it means embracing Christianity. I should note that I’m no student of Ali’s works or views, so my take is kind of a surface-skimming, Maureen Dowd-style impressionism. But here goes:

I think Ali’s perspective is valuable, because she’s a product of a certain culture, and has thoroughly rejected that culture. But that perspective carries a danger of the “zeal of the converted” — I have to wonder whether her policy recommendations are the result of a rational and principled analysis, or merely the product of her (understandable) antipathy toward the Muslim world.

And I also wonder whether she’s really rejected the Islamist view as much as she thinks. I find myself wanting to say to her, I really appreciate how you’ve rejected the Islamist worldview in favor of the Western one, but here’s the thing — in the West, we don’t react to things we dislike by trying to ban them, we don’t use the law as a club to beat ideas into submission.

Ali reminds me a little of Orson Welles’ Nazi character in “The Stranger,” who tries to pose as a non-Nazi by claiming Nazis are so evil that the only solution is to exterminate them all.

Sunday Sermon: Sparrows vs. Pelicans

A few questions for the Louisiana lawmakers designating today as a day of prayer for divine intervention in the BP oil spill:

Do you think God isn’t aware of the spill, or isn’t aware that we’d prefer not to have it? I thought God noticed when a sparrow dies — does God have some special thing for sparrows, or against pelicans, or something?

Couldn’t you guys have done this a couple months ago? Or, say, 1 month ago, when it was abundantly clear that this was a huge problem? I mean, even if one of the various capping/plugging attempts had succeeded, there was already a pretty massive amount of oil floating around there.

Even if we grant that you didn’t realize it was serious until recently (or didn’t conclude that “efforts made by mortals to try to solve the crisis have been to no avail,” did you have to wait until Sunday? This thing is gushing something like 60,000 barrels a day — what was wrong with getting God to intervene yesterday, or the day before?

If everything that happens is God’s will, then isn’t the oil spill His will as well? Aren’t you objecting to God’s will by asking Him to correct it?

If the spill isn’t stopped in the near future, will you take that as evidence that prayer is ineffective?

If the spill is stopped in the near future, by human efforts making use of human technologies, with no evidence whatsoever of supernatural intervention, will you take that as evidence that prayer is effective?

Making strides

You may have seen Stephen Prothero on “The Colbert Report” recently, shilling his book on various religions and their differences (and, apparently, why Christianity is the best one).

Jason at EvolutionBlog has a nice post about Prothero’s concern-trolling over how the “New Atheism” is turning people off by being all “strident” and blah, blah, blah.

As Jason notes, atheists are louder and more “strident” than ever, and coincidentally, polls are showing more people declaring themselves atheist or at least non-religious. So even if you don’t consider there to be any causation in that correlation, it’s at least pretty clear that atheism isn’t being significantly diminished by the recent trend toward outspoken atheists speaking out.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that stridency (real or imagined) doesn’t have any downside, but if you find yourself on the defensive against some theist who’s demanding that you condemn or distance yourself from the “strident” folks, it’s not unreasonable for you to ask them to set an example for you by condemning the stridency of folks like Pat Robertson or the Pope or whoever.

(pic via Jesus and Mo)

Sunday Sermon: Apocalypse, wow!

Apparently the BP oil spill is the latest big tizzy for the “rapture ready” crowd, at least according to Newsweek:

“Now blogs on the Christian fringe are abuzz with possibility that the oil spill is the realization of Revelation 8:8–11. “The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea became blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed … A third of the waters became wormwood, and many died from the water, because it was made bitter.””

There’s one reason the apocalyptic anticipation might be more muted than usual (and in fairness, some Christians are using it as an opportunity to reflect on our oil addiction). The article notes the interesting problem that the Apocalypse is supposed to be a judgment for sin, and the sins in this case are mostly due to rampant capitalism and Bush-era oil policies.

But regardless of the details, there’s something seriously creepy about people getting all giddy over the end of the world. I remember a similar phenomenon after 9/11, and it creeped me out then too (along with a whole lot of other stuff — that was a creepy time in all sorts of ways).

And it’s pretty ironic for those folks to denounce Muslim suicide bombers as a “culture of death” when their own worldview involves seeing a massive world-ending holocaust as something to look forward to.

(pic via Political Humor)

Sunday Sermon: Goin’ to the chapel

Sorry, no time for a proper Sunday Sermon — I’m off to a friend’s wedding today (the aforementioned “chapel,” which happens to be at a state-sponsored university; ponder that for a sec), and I have a job interview (!) tomorrow, so I don’t have time (or, perhaps, inclination) to work myself into a righteous frenzy right now.

But maybe a Sunday Sermon will occur to you if you read this Newsweek article about the BP spill inspiring a new bout of “end times” fear/enthusiasm among some wacky Christians.  It reminds me a little of Christians who concern-troll over the lake of fire or whatever that will await you if you die unsaved. They claim to be worried about what will happen to you, but it seems like they can’t quite keep the gloating excitement out of their voice.

(chapel pic via Panoramio)

Turning the tide

Somebody named Timur Kuran has a book out that atheists should probably take note of, especially atheists who are interested in winning social acceptance for freethinking.

The book’s thesis is that when people are surrounded by instances of people expressing a certain opinion, they themselves are often swayed toward that opinion, even if it’s not as widespread as it appears, due to “preference falsification” (people claiming to believe something or like something because they perceive it to be socially unacceptable not to do so).

So “political correctness” (not just a lefty thing, but something found in every social stratum) causes people to pretend to think or feel a certain way, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as people’s minds are shaped by the perceived predominance of such preferences — they start thinking the emperor really does have some nice new clothes.

But things can change quickly, if the dominant paradigm is tossed out (as, for example, Communism was). What does this mean for atheists? Well, it means a lot of religious (or anti-atheist) sentiment might be paper-thin — people are going along with it because it’s their perception that it’s not politically correct to do otherwise.

It also means that if it becomes more and more acceptable to be atheist, things might reach a “tipping point” (dragging in yet another pop-sociology concept) where atheism could become much more widely accepted. Especially if religion becomes noticeably less revered — and the pedophile priests and rentboy Republicans are certainly helping to set that ball in motion.

(pic via Joy Erickson)