Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Culture Wars

    In his editorial in last Monday's USA Today Stephen Prothero deplored the bitter divisiveness of the current "culture wars," and suggested as an antidote what he calls "The American Bible," a collection of core texts that define us as Americans. He then concluded his piece with a quote from Thomas Jefferson's First Inaugural Address: "Let us then, fellow citizens, unite with one heart and one mind. Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things. . . . Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all republicans -- we are federalists."
    We can hardly blame Mr. Prothero for wanting to restore a measure of civility to our public discourse, but at the same time we think that he has vastly underestimated the differences that divide us. The sad fact of the matter is that we are no longer "brethren of the same principle," as Jefferson so elegantly put it.
    In Jefferson's day there was a consensus on certain core values that no longer exists today. It is fascinating to note the makeup of the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence. In included Benjamin Franklin, and , of course, Jefferson himself, both free-thinkers, as well as John Adams, who would eventually become a Unitarian. But the committee also included a devout evangelical Christian, Roger Sherman of Connecticut. In spite of this difference of religion, they were agreed on certain core principles which they said were "self-evident": that all men are created equal, and that they were endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.
    Would they have put it that way today? It seems unlikely. What separates us today from the world in which they lived is Charles Darwin. While Jefferson, Franklin and Adams were religious liberals or free-thinkers, they were not atheists. They believed in a rationally ordered universe created by an intelligent Supreme Being. Darwin, however, called all of that into doubt, and with it the whole rationale for the Declaration. In Darwinian thinking there is no Creator, and all living beings are in a constant state of evolution, locked in a struggle for survival. On this construction of things it is hard to see how there could be such a thing as an "inalienable right": there is no Supreme Being to endow anyone with any rights. Thus the values of human dignity, freedom and equality are no longer "self-evident truths," and the Christian is thrown back on a direct appeal to divine revelation to support the idea of human exceptionalism. This, in turn, is unacceptable to the modern secularist. Thus today we are no longer "brethren of the same principle." Rather, the debate is over whether or not universal principles exist at all.
    As faulty as David Barton's historiography undoubtedly is, his supporters have a sense of something of immense importance. What they sense is that civilization itself is at risk. We have become a society that has lost its faith in its core values, the universal norms of justice and humanity. Militant atheism is a denial of values and ideals of every kind. Do we, as a nation, still have anything worth fighting for?



  1. Militant atheism is a denial of values and ideals of every kind.

    Bob, I gotta say, you're slipping away not just from reality but from rationality itself. This kind of statement is deplorable from every angle but religious bigotry. Again, though, it's not surprising given that religion poisons everything.

    Any other militant in the world seems to have some connection to perpetrating violence. Atheists have no such connection. We atheists alone earn this title of militancy by simply disagreeing with the claims of make-believe and magic many wish were true.

    As if this intentional nischaracterization wasn't enough, now we have these same non believers vilified to be less than human by another 'apostle of christian love' who wants to insist by insinuation that not believing in some religious nonsense means denying anyone the right to hold values and ideals.

    Shame on you, Bob.

    In addition, please check the Constitution and tell us again how religious belief informs its value to sourcing the legal rights you now enjoy not from some Oogity Boogity authority but simply from those who are governed. (I know you like to dip into that single phrase in the Declaration and have convinced yourself that this has meaning far beyond the niceties of language used in such correspondence. But it has nothing - NOTHING - to do with the values of self-governance revealed in the Constitution.) So tell us how those Constitutional values and ideals upon which the law is based MUST BE a denial of any values and ideals because they are not religiously informed.

    Go ahead. I'll wait.




    You're not just wrong in this bigoted attitude against atheists, Bob, by assuming your religious beliefs in any way enhances the quality of your reading comprehension any more than it does your character. You clearly demonstrate here that your belief does neither. But worse still is the fact that you're also morally wrong to reveal a callous disregard for our shared humanity based on religious belief that as atheists we cannot hold values and ideals equivalent to your own. Religious belief has once again steered you wrong and clouded your judgement. That's why you can intentionally be mean-spirited and obnoxious towards those who dare to disagree with your unhinged truth claims about the reality we share and think yourself owning the moral high ground when you so obviously do not. Your religious belief has led you to exercising a bigotry against sceptics that is as petty as it is stupid, as narrow-minded as it is intentional. And your religious belief's role in promoting this crap is obvious. You make victims from your religious belief. Without such belief you wouldn't be so rude and offensive to others who are your intellectually honest betters.

  2. So Tildeb, what do you believe in, and what is the scientific basis for it? Bare physical matter, plus what? On the basis of evolution, what is "shared humanity"? What values and ideals do you have that are not "make believe" that "many would wish are true"?
    The problem here is that you have placed "values and ideals" in the same category as you have placed religion -- they are all made up concepts that have no basis in objective reality. One person says he believes in religion; another one says he believes in democracy. Does either one have a basis in science? Why, then, believe in either?

    1. Don't change the subject, Bob. You arrogantly, piously, and without due diligence accused atheists of having no means to establish values and ideals without religious authority, as if you are in some special position to judge while pretending you live with learned religious humility. (This is speaking out of both sides of your mouth which is incoherent to those of us rational, Bob.) When we atheists dare to disagree with this absurd accusation and explain why it's absurd (as I have done many times to no effect) and reveal this poisonous nonsense you spout to be bigotry in action, you declare them to be 'militant'. Of course it must always be someone else's fault because your religious belief couldn't possibly make you say and do immoral things like this. But they do, Bob, and they always will. You just don;t see it because you're not on the receiving end.

      Now you dare to pretend that the atheist cannot rely on rational thought and informed reasons to defend themselves from your religious poison but must use only physical matter as if that is all the atheist has. What garbage. But I'm not surprised that this is the extent your religiously skewed thinking allows you to go to appreciate our shared humanity (...if I explained that notion to you in detail with the language of evolution, you would not understand because you refuse to understand); garbage in, garbage out seems rather insightful here.

      Bob, you assert I cannot have values and ideals without religious authority. I can and I do. Along comes the muslim who agrees with you about me. But he also assures me that your values and ideals cannot have legitimacy because you worship a false god. (I don't expect you to catch the irony here.) Only I support that all of us have access to legitimate values and ideals because of our shared biology. No god is necessary for you to have value to me. If we politicize these opinions, who among us shows allegiance to democracy, that each one of us has equivalent value by which we endow our consent to be governed? Not you, Bob. Not the muslim. I alone do. And I do so for good reasons based not on superstitious belief nor religious bigotry but on enlightened political values of your personal worth independent of your poisonous religious beliefs, on the personal worth of the deluded muslim, and on my equal value because all of us are human. This reveals your claim - that I cannot hold values and ideals because I am not a believer in the authority of your god - to be false. Blatantly, obviously, honestly false.

      Learn from this, Bob. Learn that your religious beliefs poison your heart as well as your mind. You don't need it and it's hurting you by making you less concerned about the value of a fellow human being than labeling me as something less than to suit not you and your human value but the bigotry inherent in the religious belief that infects you, that makes you a carrier, a servant, a slave. See it for the bilious effect it has on your ability to recognize equivalent human value in another and cast it out. Become fully human rather than the religious puppet you have been convinced to be in exchange for making you feel special. We're all of us special to each other Bob because all of us are human first and believers or non believers second. Be honest with this reality, and breathe freely from the yoke of burden the religious meme imposes on your intellectual and emotional faculties. Stop being such a mewling servant of something that poisons you and accept the burden of living an honest and free life. This life. An honest one. Starting right now.

      You survived the demise of Santa Claus; you can survive this - and even thrive - by giving back your religious beliefs to those who can't accept reality as it is and must try to reduce others in order to feel equivalent. It's poisonous, Bob, like blowing up a village to save it. It's incoherent and you know it.

  3. Well, this week we will be taking a look at Sam Harris and his attempt to construct a system of morality on the basis of science, and we'll see how far he gets.
    I don't mean to imply that every New Atheist is a thug lurking in some dark alley waiting to sink his axehead into the skull of some unsuspecting Christian. I have friends who live in the Ithaca, NY area, home of Cornell University, and they are very nice people personally. But the implications of atheism are disturbing.

  4. Militant atheism is a denial of values and ideals of every kind.

    I'm with tildeb.
    Shame on you for lying.

    I don't mean to imply that every New Atheist is a thug lurking in some dark alley waiting to sink his axehead into the skull of some unsuspecting Christian.

    Yeah, sure. They just deny values and ideal.
    Shame on you.

    I have friends who live in the Ithaca, NY area, home of Cornell University, and they are very nice people personally.

    Tell them to their faces that they deny values and ideals.
    Go ahead. Watch their reaction.

    Atheism is the absence of a belief in a religion.
    There's nothing more to it than that.
    Show's over.

    No worldview. No dogma. No manual. No set of instructions. No leaders. No over-arching philosophy. No requirements.

    Do you believe in Baal?
    Then congratulations. You are an atheist with regards to Baal.
    That's it.
    It doesn't get any more complicated than that.

    We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.- Richard Dawkins