Grant Rants

The stupid it burns: anti-vampireism and bald as a hair colour edition

- May 14th, 2012

Greetings heathens, zealots, web denizens, and the rest of you!

Ok, I have some ranty mojo brewing today and I’m in need of a target. Fortunately, the world is a big place with more stupid than it is possible to catalog, and it was easy enough to find one. Just up the highway in fact. In Toronto, that mythical center of the known universe.

Specifically, a column by rabbi Dow Marmur, who evidently doesn’t like us heathens very much.  The problem with we atheists, he says in a meandering column in the Toronto Star, is that we are pretty much like jihadists:

I’ve, therefore, consistently refused to engage in debates with atheists. They may consider me a cowardly man of little faith who’s afraid of exposing himself to the truth, but impartial observers will know that contemporary atheists are often even more fanatical than religious fundamentalists. Their zeal seems to know no bounds.

Interesting. Last time I checked, the most fanatical religious fundamentalists in North America try to have their dogmatic nonsense taught in science classes and are obsessed with telling women what they can do with their bodies, including a hilarious Republican bill that passed recently in Arizona that defined pregnancy as starting two weeks before conception. (no, that is not a punch line.) In even more extreme cases in North America, Europe, and of course, the middle east, the fundamentalist set is busy killing other people, often using that delightful method employed by the truly deluded, suicide bombing.

Atheists write books and blogs.thestupiditburns Oh, the horror, the horror.

Marmur points to Alian de Botton’s weird newish book Religion for Atheists, where in de Botton says he wants to build atheist temples, as some manner of evidence that atheism itself is becoming a religion (which is why we are worse than the worst religious fundamentalists….you know without the bombs and such) and in fact, heathens have “religion-envy.”

Ok, look, first de Botton strange book was greeted with disinterest by the atheist community, such as it even exists, and the most anyone could say about it was “uh, what?”

It’s true, there are atheists who seem to want to ape the group cohesion provided by most religions, but it’s an attitude I’ve always found puzzling. It’s why I don’t belong to any skeptic/atheist/humanist groups nor go to regular meetings. I don’t have any need to get together with people to talk about what I don’t believe in. I tend to, this rant notwithstanding, focus my commentary in his regard on attempts to breach the wall between church and state, or religious attempts to undermine basic freedoms like freedom of speech, or attempts to win converts by stealth (like the ongoing efforts of the Gideons to be given access to elementary public school children.) But sit around and talk about why I don’t believe in the existence of gods? Zzzzzz. Please. I’d almost rather watch Glee.

Marmur’s entire argument crumbles because it starts with a false premise. He treats atheism as though it’s a thing like Christianity or Scientology or Jedism something. The tacit assumption he makes is that atheism is a complete philosophical entity, with dogmas, and rules and holy books and, I would guess, priests or clerics or some sort that one obeys. And uses this argument as he defends the excesses and violence of religion:

Because religion is articulated and administered by human beings, it often falls short of its stated ideals — just like atheism.

Really? Really, Rabbi Marmur? And what ideals are those exactly? Where do I find them? Where, in the name of Zeus’ holy toga, do I find the “stated ideals” of atheism?

Look man, atheism is barely a thing at all. Not believing in a god or gods is all atheism is. Period. QED. End of frakkin’ story. The only reason we have a name for it at all is because historically everyone around us has been totally hell bent for leather on this whole god business.

I mean, even the name “atheism” is pretty stupid because it dignifies the thing that it denies. Look, I don’t believe in vampires or big foot either, right? But there is no need to run about calling myself am “anosferatuist,” or an “asasquatchist,” is there. The bottom line is that atheism is a religion like bald is a hair colour. The “ism” at the end makes it all sound fancy, I guess, but it isn’t.

I pretty well agree with Neil deGrasse Tyson on this front when he says “at the end of the day I’d rather not be any category at all.”

Even the so called “atheist community” is a disjointed lot that is only bound by the disbelief in the supernatural and generally shared respect for science, evidence and reason. There is also some broad agreements on the values of democracy, freedom of speech and the like. Beyond that, it is pretty well, to use the cliche, like herding cats. Disagreements abound. Yes, Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennet, Harris, PZ Myers and a few others are the most public and well known of the so called “New Atheists” (which is only new by the authors refusal to shut up when told.) but they constantly disagree. Tyson and Dawkins’s disagree over how to talk about science and religion in popular culture. Myers recently took Harris to task over issues of racial profiling at airports. And I’ve lost track of how many non-believers were sharply critical of Hitchen’s views on the Iraq war.

But I am sure Marmur will tell us where in that mess there are the “ideals” of atheism. Or is that the sound of cricket’s chipping?

About the only thing that Marmur gets right is that religion allows people to form a community of believers and atheism doesn’t do this. Well, yes. So what? De Botton’s goofy book aside, how is that supposed to an argument against atheism, or put more correctly, for religion? Does it demonstrate the existence of a god? Because that is what it would take, son. That pesky thing call evidence sort of matters.

Ultimately, Marmur’s entire argument seems to boil down to the idea that religion makes you feel good, and atheism doesn’t. I suppose that could be right. Atheism provides no guidebook, no bromide of any sort. Attempts to make it do so are as foolish as attempting to grasp quicksilver. To me, not having that kind of crutch is freeing. Yes, life can be miserable. It can suck. It will, as Rocky says. “beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently  if you let it.”

Speaking only for myself, I would rather harden myself to deal with it than rely on help that isn’t there because it makes me feel good to believe there is. I would rather deal with life as it is, honestly, and be miserable than to cling to some manner of false hope. If atheism is a thing at all, it’s living life on your own terms, taking the awful and the good as they come.

Categories: atheism, Glee is evil, Isn't it absurd?, News, philosophy, religion, The Grant Rant, the stupid it burns

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9 comments

  1. Sarah says:

    “It’s true, there are atheists who seem to want to ape the group cohesion provided by most religions, but it’s an attitude I’ve always found puzzling.”

    So you deny that there are those who feel differently? That’s an odd thing to say.

    “It’s why I don’t belong to any skeptic/atheist/humanist groups nor go to regular meetings.

    It also why you don’t have solid ground on which to base your opinion. You clearly aren’t one of these atheists he’s criticising, and clearly don’t associate with anyone who is, but you don’t associate with atheist groups anyway, so what does that prove?

    “About the only thing that Marmur gets right is that religion allows people to form a community of believers and atheism doesn’t do this. Well, yes. So what?”

    The so what is that several of them have formed a community of non-believers that is aggressive, fanatical, demeaning and completely impossible to reason with. Just like many communities of believers. He doesn’t feel it’s necessary for him to debate them. Seems reasonable to me.

    • grant.lafleche says:

      You’re missing the point Sarah and just pulling random bits of my post out of context.

      Marmur is saying that “new” atheists are just as bad as religious fanatics. Except religious fanatics work to undermine science education and politics at best, and blow themselves in public places at worst. Atheists write books. This is not a trivial distinction.

      • Sarah says:

        The point appears to be that *you* are not like these “other” new Atheists, and don’t associate with any other atheists, therefore all complaints about *them* are invalid.

        His complaint is that many of the New Atheists are at least as annoying and unwilling to listen to reason as many religious people. It’s a fairly innocuous point and completely undeniable by anyone willing to face the evidence – but will seem wildly irrational to anyone like you who does not associate with other atheists and has no experience or evidence of the crazy ones. The fact that he talks about “New Atheists” as a coherent group is wrong, but his identification of the irrational and vociferous fanatics is accurate.

        “Except religious fanatics work to undermine science education and politics at best, and blow themselves in public places at worst. Atheists write books. This is not a trivial distinction”

        Nonsense of course, but you appear to be unaware or in denial about atheists who do not think like you.
        Atheists are just as capable of killing for their beliefs as religious people.

        wikipedia.org/wiki/USSR_anti-religious_campaign_(1921%E2%80%931928)
        wikipedia.org/wiki/USSR_anti-religious_campaign_(1928%E2%80%931941)
        wikipedia.org/wiki/USSR_anti-religious_campaign_(1958%E2%80%931964)

        Religious fanatics save others and sacrifice themselves for the good of others at best, and kill others for their beliefs at worst. Atheist fanatics save others and sacrifice themselves for the good of others at best, and kill others for their beliefs at worst.

        • grant.lafleche says:

          Right Sarah, because there are lots of atheists running about hijacking planes and blowing them up, suicide bombing in public places, shooting abortion doctors, and throwing acid into the faces of little girls, to say nothing of honor killings….no wait…that’s what religion fanatics do.

          Bringing up the old Soviet Union doesn’t get you very far because they were not hunting priests because they had suddenly embraced Enlightenment values and were too demanding of scientific evidence. They were actually religion by another name. Stalin built a cult of personality that, through the force of guns, attempted to replace traditional religious belief. The USSR was hostile to religious orthodoxy because Stalin viewed it as a threat to his power. (except when he needed their support during the war.) Stalin himself was a seminarian, and ended up building a cult of personality around himself that eventually had a fanatical following just like religion. The USSR was not atheist or secular in practice at all. The problem was it behaved like at theocracy, with official texts, punishments for disbelievers, witch and heresy hunts, stories of miracles, official doctrine and rituals. None of that is atheist by nature at all. I mean, I can call a hamburger a flower, but that does not make it so. The USSR was, in point of fact, a crazed theocracy.

          I put to you the same question I put the rabbi in my blog: what exactly are atheist “beliefs”. Where do I find the official atheist texts? What are atheist rituals? In what atheist texts, that all atheists must accept to be called atheist, does it prescribe the murder of those who don’t share the same beliefs?

          If you come up with an answer, let me know.

  2. Brian says:

    “All atheism is (sic) just not believing in a god or gods.”
    Let me correct you, if I may. There is a difference between not believing something exists, and believing that something does not exist. One is more passive, while the other is a conscious effort. Lack of a belief does not even apply any thought at all. Atheism is, on the contrary, the active belief that there is no God. What you refer to is probably more commonly called an agnostic.

    • grant.lafleche says:

      Actually no. You’re splitting hairs…well, actually you are not really splitting the hair as much as waving it around.

      An agnostic is one who says you cannot know either way, and therefore neither believes or disbelieves. It’s a suspension of opinion. An atheist says there is no reason to believe and therefore doesn’t. The distinction you try to make doesn’t exist, frankly. Most people don’t believe in most of the gods humans have cooked up over the centuries. You can label it “active” disbelief or not, but the Christian and the atheist are of the same mind when it comes to Zeus or Thor. The only difference is that atheists just go one god further.

      Where there real evidence for the existence of some kind of god, atheists would have no choice but to accept it. But there isn’t.

      Also there isn’t a difference between “not believing something exists and believing that something does not exist.” The second is actually sort of weird, suggesting there is some reason or another to believe in a particular thing, but the atheist chooses not to. Like a creationist or something. Atheism is barely a thing at all. It merely is saying that a person doesn’t believe in god or gods. Beyond that, it says nothing.

  3. nouveau riche atheist Ron says:

    Grant, could you also address these two “things” that Sarah said:

    (1) “His complaint is that many of the New Atheists are at least as annoying and unwilling to listen to reason as many religious people,” and, (2) “The fact that he talks about “New Atheists” as a coherent group is wrong, but his identification of the irrational and vociferous fanatics is accurate.”

    I want her to carefully explain what “unwilling to listen to reason” means to her. And how exactly we are “irrational” and “fanatical.” Specifically the word “reason” because I’ve listened Sarah. We’ve listened to what you think you call reason. But when we hear something that isn’t reasonable, Sarah, we move along. We live our lives. We don’t DWELL. But your definition of “reason” is surely something we’d like to hear.

    You see, because I’m one of those “fanatical” New Atheists that the wonderful Rabbi and Sarah don’t like. Nice to meet you! At and times, I do enjoy being a part of atheist groups. Yep I said it. You know why Sarah? It can be fun. It can be cool. It’s no big whoop. But it’s also about f***ing time, as Seth McFarlane put it. We need strong voices because those of faith are forever busy. And if you try to push your “ideals,” your “beliefs,” your “theories” into the schools, you’re going to run into opposition. But like Grant, I don’t need to show up according to some schedule and break open some text. We don’t have to meet up, but sometimes, hey, why not? And sometimes it’s satisfying to know that one is not the only person – like the great Wil Ferell said as Mugatu in the movie, “Zoolander” – “not taking crazy pills.” Ooops! Am I being “fanatical” Sarah?

    More to the point Grant, in my experience, what these people REALLY mean by “unreasonable” and “fanatical” is that we have listened to what they have to say, and we reject it. We don’t accept it. We challenge it. We don’t show the proper “respect” which means one thing: we’re not granting it the special privilege, insight, value and virture that they demand or think it richly deserves. The “respect” they have been given for SO many, many centuries. They alarmingly confuse TOLERANCE with ACCEPTANCE. I do not accept theistic/spiritual claims, but of course I tolerate it because this is a secular society (I hope). The problem for us New “fanatical” Atheists is that we have let religion take such a commanding role in society. It’s nothing more than one opinion. And sorry Sarah, it’s just plain, downright boring. But you make such a big deal about it.

    I know it’s scary Sarah when someone is challenging the status quo. You feel we’re being “aggressive.” Roar! Sarah, I going to try to sell you on the “virtue” of critical thinking. Even when we’re being “aggressive” we’re being positive people. We New Atheists are capable of dismissing the ideas, without automatically dismissing the person (at the outset). In the end, the worst it can get is that I say you are delusional and you say I’m a negative, unimaginative, immoral person. Words, free thoughts, ideas. And there’s going to be a teething process that religious people are going to have to go through. It’s just that Sarah, you don’t have a right to not be offended. Sorry. And I think it’s great.

  4. Paul says:

    Actually bald is a hair colour according to Canada Customs and Immigration. Ever own a passport?

    As for your assertion that the old USSR was not atheist in nature, you’re dead wrong Grant. You simply wish to hide that most basic fact about state sanctioned communism in order to distance your personal atheist beliefs from Stalin and his thugs.

    State promotion of atheism as a public norm was first practiced during a brief period in Revolutionary France. Since then, such a policy was repeated only in Revolutionary Mexico and some Marxist-Leninist states. The Soviet Union had a long history of state atheism, in which social success largely required individuals to profess atheism and stay away from houses of worship; this attitude was especially militant during the middle Stalinist era from 1929–1939. The Soviet Union attempted to suppress public religious expression over wide areas of its influence, including places such as central Asia.

    Nice try though.

    • grant.lafleche says:

      Welcome back Paul. Always a delight.

      Well, if you want to run about and tell people that bald is a hair colour, go right ahead. And rest assured the giggling won’t be directed at you, just near you.

      At the risk of repeating myself – but I will give you props this time for commenting on something I actually wrote rather than just venting spleen – like Sarah above, your view of history is very selective. The old Soviet Union was an “atheist state” in the sense that it had no state religion and, indeed, was at points extraordinarily hostile to it. But you can only say it is an “atheist state” as in the kind of atheism that has been advocated from Epicurus through to the Enlightenment to Richard Dawkins if you decide that facts and history simply don’t matter.

      As I noted above, the USSR operated in practical terms as a theocracy. To repeat what I said before:

      “Stalin built a cult of personality that, through the force of guns, attempted to replace traditional religious belief. The USSR was hostile to religious orthodoxy because Stalin viewed it as a threat to his power. (except when he needed their support during the war…then he was ALL for it and praised the church.) Stalin himself was a seminarian, and ended up building a cult of personality around himself that eventually had a fanatical following just like religion. The USSR was not atheist or secular in practice at all. The problem was it behaved like at theocracy, with official texts, punishments for disbelievers, witch and heresy hunts, stories of miracles, official doctrine and rituals. None of that is atheist by nature at all. I mean, I can call a hamburger a flower, but that does not make it so. The USSR was, in point of fact, a crazed theocracy.”

      There really was no difference between the USSR and a theocracy in any practical terms. Traditional religion was simply replaced with a personality cult. No, a “god” was not worshiped officially, and if you want to stake your claim on that and say “ah ha! Atheists are evil! See!” Knock yourself out. Not one will really take that view seriously, but you are welcome to it.

      The French Revolution similarly did not establish any sort of “atheist” or “secular” state. You really need to learn your history. It is true that revolutionaries attempted to dechristianize the country through some rather barbaric methods. There was a brief period during which some tried to established the Cult of Reason as a replacement for religion. But it failed, and was crushed with the official establishment of Le culte de l’Être suprême by Robespierre as the new state deistic religion. Not only was it a god centred faith, it was an important tool used by Robespierre during the height of his power (The Terror) to control the country.

      In both Communist states and France traditional religion was merely replaced by another religion, either rooted in a god belief or a personality cult, not a religion free society.

      So, as you would say Paul, “nice try.”

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