Tom Gilson

Those of us who have worked together on the True Reason initiative (Christians attending the Reason Rally) have heard from several atheists asking questions like the one Lukas asked here: how would we feel about atheists showing up at our churches? The answer for all of us is the same one I gave Lukas: we’d love it. In fact we’re asking churches across America to offer a special invitation to atheists to come and join them for genuine dialogue. We’re calling it Atheists at Church Day. See the link for further information.

Next Sunday evening at Seaford Baptist Church in York County, VA, I’ll be giving a talk on the New Atheism. This isn’t exactly the same concept; it will be a talk, whereas the point of Atheists at Church Day will be discussion. You’re invited regardless: 6:30 pm, at 1311 Seaford Rd., Seaford. If you let me know  at least a day or two ahead of time that you’re coming, I’ll carve out time in my talk for us to have dialogue from up front. Maybe we can go out for coffee afterward, too.

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37 thoughts on “Atheists Welcome!

  1. From PZ Myers:

    I’m beginning to feel like my long-standing personal policy of not intruding on their church services needs to be questioned…

    Considering Myers went out of his way to steal and desecrate the eucharist from a Catholic church, this is a laugh. He’s a petty little Internet Personality(tm) who will do absolutely anything that advances his own goals.

    I also enjoy the apparently knee-jerk view that ‘atheist gatherings are equivalent to Christian mass’ – by atheists themselves.

    That said… put me on record as thinking the approach you’re outlining is a mistake. At the very least, I wish this approach would draw a line between ‘reasonable people who are interested in discussion’ and ‘people who just want to disrupt things, insult, and cause a scene’.

    One of the greatest mistakes I see so many Christians making is perpetuating this idea that the Cult of Gnu makes for a good ‘dialogue partner’. A given atheist or agnostic or non-believer may be open to discussion. But the New Atheists have explicitly run their movement with the idea that Christians, and theists generally, should not be respected, and certainly their beliefs shouldn’t. The point of any ‘dialogue’ is not discussion in their view, but conversion and PR, by any effective means.

    And by painting this particular group of atheists as being deserving of ‘dialogue’ or respect, Christians are suggesting to many onlookers that they think the approach and underlying attitudes of these groups is acceptable for discourse. They’re sandbagging themselves. It’s a little like ‘dialoguing’ with unrepentant racists: the very act of treating them as equal discussion partners helps to legitimize their views and behavior.

    Make it a requirement that any ‘discussion partner’ from the atheist side condemns Richard Dawkins’ declaration that he intends to ‘Destroy Christianity’, or the stated aim to bully and shame Christians out of their beliefs, and see how many takers you get.

  2. “One of the greatest mistakes I see so many Christians making is perpetuating this idea that the Cult of Gnu makes for a good ‘dialogue partner’.”

    This is certainly something we have seen here and seen here repeatedly.

    And by saying “athiests welcome” is there some implication that they haven’t been welcome before when the reality is that there is hardly a church in America that doesn’t welcome pretty much anyone at any time.

  3. I hope that implication doesn’t come through that way. What we’re trying to do is make it a whole lot more obvious that atheists are welcome, because apparently a lot of them don’t think they would be.

  4. Hello there! I’m a random atheist, regular reader of Myer’s blog and such.

    So I heard about this “Ask an Atheist to Church Day,’ and I thought that sounded like a good idea and looked around a bit more.

    I’m posting here because it seems like the best place to start an actual discussion about this event (or is there somewhere better?). Again, I like the idea of the event but I have some concerns about how it’s being suggested churches organize it. I’m curious why the format on http://www.truereason.org was suggested, and hoping there can be some heathen input on how to make it more inviting for the people you want to attract.

  5. Tom,

    What we’re trying to do is make it a whole lot more obvious that atheists are welcome, because apparently a lot of them don’t think they would be.

    Should they be? Shouldn’t it depend on the atheist in question?

    Consider PZ Myers. Remove his popularity (in other words, make the fact that Myers functions as a representative of spokesperson for the Cult of Gnu and thus by addressing him you address a larger crowd, inapplicable). Keep his online persona and attitude in place.

    Would he be welcome? Should he be?

    At exactly what point does a group (and again, not ‘atheists, full stop’ but even a particular subgroup of atheists) become persona non grata for ‘dialogue’? At what point do you say, “Unless you disavow these particular views or behaviors commonly held and endorsed by the group you associate with, we have nothing to discuss”?

    I can understand a Church wanting to welcome people who don’t believe in God, or who aren’t members of their religion, or… etc. A Church deciding, “You know who would be a great dialogue partner? That guy who stole a Catholic host, threw it in the garbage and desecrated it, and showed zero remorse.” is another matter entirely, I think. As would be people who supported or even encouraged that act.

  6. “At exactly what point does a group (and again, not ‘atheists, full stop’ but even a particular subgroup of atheists) become persona non grata for ‘dialogue’?”

    Never? There are behaviors that are certainly “non grata” but not groups or people. They should, I think, be welcome until they prove themselves otherwise. Otherwise, Crude, who makes that call. Who says , you belong to that crowd. Don’t come in here.

  7. Tom, awesome.

    My eyebrows first raised with this…

    “Some suggested discussion topics include:

    The historical evidence for the resurrection
    Genesis and the Cosmological Argument
    Psalm 19 and the Teleological Argument
    The Cross and the Problem of Evil
    Atheism and Meaning

    You can find suggested resources on these topics at ReasonsForGod.org. If you want a Christian apologist (specialist in reasons for confidence in the faith) to assist you for this day and need a recommendation please contact us; we would be glad to help.”

    Specifically, I don’t see many atheists showing up if the topics under discussion include things like evidence for the resurrection and using Biblical passages to support the cosmological argument.

    An atheist doesn’t see a particular authority for the Bible to begin with, so the discussion is only going be either variation of the atheists saying “I don’t believe the Bible”, or a nit-picking textual criticism that the audience probably won’t be engaged in. A topic like “The Authority of the Bible” itself might be interesting, but even then will mostly likely be a debate about Biblical contradiction and the reliability of prophecies.

    Instead, starting with JUST the cosmo/theological argument and using just philosophy/reason would be something that atheists would be very interested in, and both sides have the opportunity to make substantive input.

    Likewise, while the Problem of Evil can be a fruitful topic, starting out with the premise that crucifixion is an integral part of the problem is not going to interest many atheists. “Atheism and Meaning” sounds very interesting, and I feel that should maybe be at the top of the list. I feel everyone involved would learn something from that.

    If topics are prepared ahead of time I hope you can see how it would be unfair if the hosting church had the only input on what was discussed. If possible invited atheists should have input on the topics, and if not possible encourage an informal format.

    My last comment on this is while I understand that a church may feel the need to bring in a professional apologist, this is NOT conducive to your intent of having a free and open event. The vast majority of atheists churches are going to find will have no formal training in philosophy, religion, or rhetoric. An apologist from outside of the community with years of formal education asking complex questions and using specialized language is not equitable. Churches who wish to participate in this ought to encourage their own ministers or even parishioners to directly participate in the discussion with the atheists.

    Alternative, if a church does want a high-level debate, be sure that the invited atheists have a balanced educational background compared to the apologist. Sending inquires to the local university biology, physics, philosophy, or comparative religion departments would be a way to find such individuals. But to me this would see to negate of the whole event in the first place.

    The hope for this event ought not be on-the-spot conversions, but that both atheists and Christians see each other in a more compassionate light, and the topics should encourage that.

  8. Never? There are behaviors that are certainly “non grata” but not groups or people. They should, I think, be welcome until they prove themselves otherwise.

    I don’t think that’s reasonable. To use an exaggerated example, that’s like suggesting that denouncing al-Qaeda is terrible and shouldn’t be condoned, and instead individuals should be denounced. Or that merely being a member of al-Qaeda shouldn’t suffice to put a person on a no-fly list at the TSA, because that would be holding an individual responsible for the acts of a group they’re a member of, associate with and support.

    Now, it’s entirely possible to go in the wrong direction with this – say, “This terrorist act was committed by (race), so all (race) are now to be held accountable.” Which is why I differentiated between the merely atheist, mere unbelievers, and the New Atheists, aka Cult of Gnu.

    Otherwise, Crude, who makes that call. Who says , you belong to that crowd. Don’t come in here.

    If you’re asking me who, personally, makes that call, the answer is easy. Who determines who does or doesn’t come into your house? You do. Who determines who does or doesn’t walk into a corporate building? Those who are in charge of the property, or who have been delegated that role.

    In the case here, it would be event organizers and church leaders in the appropriate capacity.

    Now maybe you’re asking, “How is it determined who is or isn’t a member of this group?” Clearly, an average person could just lie and enter into the group if they choose. At the same time, the leadership can clearly lay down their standards of who they welcome. Maybe even expressly say, ‘If you approve of destroying Christianity, if you believe it’s okay to change minds by way of belittling people or pressuring them, if you approve of and applaud stealing and desecrating consecrated hosts from a Catholic church or of events like Blasphemy Day or similar insults, you’re not welcome here.’ Maybe even feel free to ask would-be participants of their stances on such. Someone can always lie – well, let them lie.

    But don’t turn a blind eye to it. Don’t pretend it isn’t happening, and certainly don’t suggest that all people are worthy of ‘dialogue’ no matter what they endorse or what they do.

    Edit: I want to stress here that we’re talking about a move where not just unbelievers, but New Atheists in particular, are being invited to come to a church and speak. This isn’t about keeping scary atheists out of the church on any given day, it’s about an explicit offer being extended to a group. One that has been associated with everything from Blasphemy Day to the Eucharist theft and desecration to equally rotten antics. It shouldn’t be ignored. It should be taken into account, and a standard should be set: if you support these antics, you’re not worthy of a public platform being sponsored by us, or being treated as an equal discussion partner.

    Would membership in a white supremacist organization be grounds enough to deny someone such a platform at a church? I think so. And it’s because I think so that I think association with the New Atheists should equally be questioned.

  9. Crude,

    I’m not sure your comparison of the new atheists with al-Qaeda is all that reasonable. al-Qaeda has murdered thousands of people and espouses violence as their basic mode of operation. The new atheists may write and talk a “good show” with their anti-Christian rhetoric but they haven’t done anything harmful. When they do, that’s another thing.

    However, I’m in basic agreement with you about expressly engaging them as a target audience. No one who holds strong religious beliefs is a good target for conversion. And as we have seen here, the new atheists aren’t especially good at even a reasonable conversation. They seem a somewhat poor choice to make a special effort to engage at any level.

  10. I note the concern by Crude, and I hope that pastors are getting their church members ready for Atheists at Church Day. I think a contingency plan is necessary and should be discussed with the congregation in case atheists decide to be a disruption. Just my two cents!

  11. Umm, I thought I posted a fairly long comment regarding the plans for “Ask an Atheist to Church” day.

    Ah, I think I doubled posted and it got deleted. Consider this a placeholder until I recover it.

  12. BillT,

    I’m not sure your comparison of the new atheists with al-Qaeda is all that reasonable.

    As I said, that’s an exaggerated example. I’m not at all drawing any kind of equivalence between the two groups. But the logic doesn’t hold for al-Qaeda, and I suggest that even without murders or terrorism, the logic doesn’t hold for this group.

    The new atheists may write and talk a “good show” with their anti-Christian rhetoric but they haven’t done anything harmful.

    Should a white supremacist group that was nevertheless law-abiding be welcome to a church, given a platform and be allowed to speak, even for the purposes of ‘dialogue’? How about a group similar to NAMBLA, but which itself was law-abiding?

    I’m saying that, between Blasphemy Day, PZ Myers’ antics, Dawkins’ express desire to ‘Destroy Christianity’ and various declared intentions to accomplish these ends not through reason or rational debate, but through shaming, haranguing, stunts and otherwise, the Cult of Gnu has put itself beyond any reasonable ‘dialogue’. They don’t speak for all atheists. They hardly speak for much of a share of irreligious. But they do speak for themselves, and I think their behavior as a movement should lead people (Christian and not) to disavow them and regard them as beyond dialogue, and generally unworthy of being equal partners in a discussion.

    However, I’m in basic agreement with you about expressly engaging them as a target audience. No one who holds strong religious beliefs is a good target for conversion.

    Well, I don’t think conversion was the goal. I think conversation was the goal. What I’m saying is that even that is unwise. Have a conversation with atheists who disavow things like blasphemy day, or Myers’ antics. But the New Atheists are a particular group, whose leadership endorse things I think put them beyond respectful discussion. I certainly wouldn’t share a stage with Westboro Baptist. Why should what more and more seems like the atheist equivalent be given more respect?

    Keep in mind, I like Tom. I like a lot of what he says. I admire his reserve. But this move? This one I question. Respectfully, as I hope I’m being.

  13. I’m sorry, guys, but I think it’s been a long time in coming. I was worried about the churches that would not want to participate in Atheists at Church Day, but this is what is probably needed to get churches to start offering apologetics. I have attended many different churches, having been brought up in several different states, and after 38 years I now attend a church that has offered an apologetics class. What will it take to force churches to offer apologetics? My husband came close to deconverting after a friend became enamored with Common Sense Atheism and deconverted to anti-theism. After going through the Kalam Cosmological argument, Teleological argument, and Moral arguments, though, my husband has now reaffirmed his belief in God, but he is still researching the reliability of the Scriptures. I don’t think the churches that my husband and I were brought up in did a good job of teaching us how to defend the faith, and I do believe it is the church’s responsibility to teach this to their congregations.

    Even if there were no Atheists at Church Day, atheists may have already been emboldened to show up at churches and start disrupting services anyway. They already come to Christian web sites for the sole purpose of harassing Christians so that they could feel superior. What’s the next step? That is my fear-that atheists will start showing up and disrupting church services, but this is where I believe all churches need to have a contingency plan in place. Churches reserve the right not to have their services disrupted, and although we know that atheists’ concerns should be addressed, a normal church service is not the time to address those concerns. Their actions will show if they are there to harass Christians or have honest, intellectual discussion at the right time. If atheists want dialogue, Atheists at Church Day would be a good time to have that honest, respectful discussion-not during a normal church service. There’s more I want to say about harassment, but I’ll get to it later.

  14. I’m with you on this, Grace, although it’s not just about apologetics. It’s also about knowing what we believe and living it out in a way that shows skeptics we believe what we say we believe.

    Crude, I appreciate your concerns, and since this thing is still in process, it’s helpful to hear them. I think there is room to invite even the most anti-Christian New Atheists to church, in view of the fact that we’re all fellow human beings, and I wouldn’t want to exclude anyone (church discipline is another matter altogether; see 1 Cor. 5:9-11).

    What then if the visitor treats the church the way that, say, commenters on Pharyngula treat Christians? I would want the visitor to know in advance that this is about two things: building bridges and reasoning together. (The bridges are not for the sake of melding opinions but about having some relationship with each other.) If they don’t want to do that, then they’re not coming for the purpose we’re inviting them for, so they ought not accept our invitation.

    As for reasoning together, I would train the church in advance regarding the difference between reasons on the one hand, and emotionality, sloganeering, and invective on the other hand. If things then began to go sour, I could easily imagine a scenario in which I would say to the guest, “If your goal here is to show us how reasonable atheism is, you’re not giving us a very good example of it that way.”

    (I could imagine saying the converse to some Christians, too.)

    Finally I agree there would need to be a contingency option. If anyone there, atheist or Christian, began to act in a manner contrary to the purpose for which they were invited, that would be a good time to dis-invite them, immediately.

    Now bear in mind that’s all about preparing the church in good thinking skills, which is a good thing in any event, and also about what-ifs. I don’t think most atheists accepting this kind of invitation would act the way they do at Pharyngula.

  15. “…atheists may have already been emboldened to show up at churches and start disrupting services…”

    Disrupting church services is illegal. If that is their tactic (which I somewhow doubt), then there will be arrests.

  16. In this day and age when we have people like the OWS demonstrators who are willing to be arrested for their cause, I wouldn’t put it past anti-theists to pull off a stunt during a church service. Anti-theists may be willing to be arrested so that they could protest the “tyrannical dictator”. Would the person who called me an “imbecile” online be ashamed to call me that to my face? I would hope so, but again, I wouldn’t put it past them especially if their leaders are encouraging that kind of behavior.

  17. Grace,

    You could be right I guess. But considering the bad press that OWS has gotten it’s a bit hard to believe that a Dawkins type would lend his support to church disruptions. Anything is possible though.

  18. So did anyone have any thoughts on my suggestions for changes in the “Bring an Atheist to Church Day” format? Do they seem reasonable?

  19. Jubal,

    We’re Christians. When people come to our churches we want them to hear about what we believe. We want to contrast that with what they believe. We want to have the expertise to answer their questions thoroughly and intelligently. This isn’t a philosophy book club we’re talking about it’s a Christian church. If you want “…JUST the cosmo/theological argument and using just philosophy/reason…” there are tons of resources on the internet and books you can buy. Here’s one: http://telicthoughts.com/there-is-no-evidence-for-the-existence-of-god/

    Or, if you have a specific question, why don’t you just ask. We’re very helpful and friendly here

  20. Jubal,

    I’m in no position to make any decisions; however, I don’t mind hearing your suggestions, and some of them are pretty good. I understand that you don’t want Christians to use the Bible as a source, but you can’t just dismiss it a priori. Stating “I don’t believe the Bible” is just not acceptable. I understand that nit-picking textual criticism might not be that interesting to you, but discussing the reliability of the Scriptures is important since you use it as an excuse to deny the authority of the Bible. If you took the time to read Bart Ehrman or Robert Price’s work because you were honestly in search of the truth, then you would take the time to hear the Christian rebuttals against their claims.

  21. I’m not saying the Bible is not allowed to be part of the discussion, that’s silly. But if the whole point of inviting atheists to church is to hearing something of each others views, suggested topics should encourage that.

    There is very little an atheist has to say about “The historical evidence for the resurrection,” or “Psalm 19 and the Teleological Argument” that would be more than just contradicting the Christian viewpoint.

    That’s why I said “Atheism and Meaning” is a good topic. Christians can give their Biblical notions of what meaning is and where it comes from, atheists can enthuse about where they get their own meaning, and everyone learns something and gets to relate to each other as people.

    Likewise, if what you want is to see an atheist lose a debate, bring in the trained apologists. If you want to encourage churches to invite atheists into their community for a day (and actually have atheists show up), makes suggestions in the materials that encourage the events to be more personal.

    I didn’t post here to get into a debate about who’s right or wrong or the search for truth or such, but because I heard about this event, thought it sounded like something I might want to participate in, and offered some suggestions to help it be successful.

  22. Tom,

    I think there is room to invite even the most anti-Christian New Atheists to church, in view of the fact that we’re all fellow human beings, and I wouldn’t want to exclude anyone (church discipline is another matter altogether; see 1 Cor. 5:9-11).

    In that case, can I reasonably expect the same people involved with this move to invite white supremacists on similar terms? Will there be ‘reasoning together’ with people who take the position that certain minorities are ‘less-evolved’ and thus should be discouraged from reproducing?

    At what point do you decide a given group should be excluded from being viewed as reasonable, or worthy of sharing a platform for discussion in a church?

    I would want the visitor to know in advance that this is about two things: building bridges and reasoning together. (The bridges are not for the sake of melding opinions but about having some relationship with each other.) If they don’t want to do that, then they’re not coming for the purpose we’re inviting them for, so they ought not accept our invitation.

    I can point you – and I’m sure you know I could point you – at numerous statements and actions by the New Atheists showing that no, they do not want a ‘relationship’ with Christians. I can point you at everything from Blasphemy Day to statements by Dawkins about his aim being to destroy Christianity and how the goal is to socially bully people into silence about their religious beliefs. And I can also point at enthusiastic support for all these things, and certainly an utter lack of condemnation, among both the ground-level Gnus, as well as what passes for their leadership.

    Shouldn’t you ask, in advance, if the visitor denounces these moves? And if they fail to do so, wouldn’t that be ample reason to say ‘then I guess there’s nothing we can talk about’?

    Finally I agree there would need to be a contingency option. If anyone there, atheist or Christian, began to act in a manner contrary to the purpose for which they were invited, that would be a good time to dis-invite them, immediately.

    But that’s equating two groups that are utterly unequal. It implies that Christians in the broadest sense of the term, and atheists *specifically meaning the New Atheists*, are equally suspect in their behavior and what they support. But the comparison doesn’t follow through. Again, we’re not talking about mere atheists, but a specific subset of atheism which has precisely made a name for itself by its intellectual militancy, blasphemy day, and otherwise. Not only that, but a specific subset which has added nothing – zero – intellectually to the intellectual end of these matters.

    Why turn a blind eye to that?

    Now bear in mind that’s all about preparing the church in good thinking skills, which is a good thing in any event, and also about what-ifs. I don’t think most atheists accepting this kind of invitation would act the way they do at Pharyngula.

    Did you see Jerry Coyne’s behavior with John Haught, both during and after the debate? I wouldn’t be so sure.

    But my concern hasn’t been with the behavior at the debate itself. I have zero doubt that at least some would be able to ditch the expletives long enough to stick around. My concern is that by making this move, and utterly ignoring what the New Atheists have engaged in and supported, you’re sending a message like this: “Blasphemy day? Saying your intention is to destroy Christianity? The stated aim to marginalize and socially bully Christians and believers in God? That’s all okay. You can do that, and we don’t think anyone should feel that your behavior, attitude or actions make you unsuitable for sharing a platform in our church. And the fact that PZ Myers has insinuated that our showing up at an Atheist Convention means he may support disrupting Church services, and no one of this group criticized him? That’s just one more thing that doesn’t matter.”

    Let me ask you this. Let’s say a Church made the move I’m suggesting. They said, “We invite atheists and non-believers to our Church. We encourage dialogue, we want both sides to hear each other. But, we have standards. If an atheist thinks Blasphemy Day or PZ Myer’s theft and desecration of a Catholic host is acceptable behavior, if an atheist agrees that religious believers should be bullied and mocked and shamed into silence in the public sphere, if they support cultural genocide (remember that term?) by way of ‘destroying Christianity’, then they’re beyond conversation. We’ll talk with them if they denounce such moves, just as we denounce Westboro Baptist and similar style antics. Non-believers who do denounce such, we’d love to have a dialogue with.”

    What would your criticism of them be? How would you fault their approach and their reasoning?

  23. A point well taken. I am surprised at the naysayers though. There is not a hidden agenda behind the event. The purpose is and always will be to expose those who do not know Jesus and his love for his Church to the truth. It is our job to “Go and Tell” The more atheists who can come and hear the truth presented in a logical way, the more who will be touched by the Holy Spirit and come to a saving faith.

    We are not a political movement. We are a people who know and recognize the Deity of God and of Jesus. We follow Him and otherwise are just normal people. We do welcome anyone who would be a hearer.

  24. There is one thing I would like all the Christian leaders to do before Atheists at Church Day. I don’t think I heard any Christian leaders in the past condemn the immoral actions and incitement of discrimination by some of the New Atheists. While I support dialogue with anti-theists in the appropriate environment if they have demonstrated they could be respectful in good faith, I would like the Christian leaders and apologists to have a united front and loudly condemn this statement by Richard Dawkins who encourages harassing believers by using “naked contempt”.

    “I have from time to time expressed sympathy for the accommodationist tendency so ably criticized here by Jerry Coyne. I have occasionally worried that – just maybe – Eugenie Scott [of the NCSE] and the appeasers might have a point, a purely political point but one, nevertheless, that we should carefully consider. I have lately found myself moving away from that sympathy.

    “I suspect that most of our regular readers here would agree that ridicule, of a humorous nature, is likely to be more effective than the sort of snuggling-up and head-patting that Jerry is attacking. I lately started to think that we need to go further: go beyond humorous ridicule, sharpen our barbs to a point where they really hurt.

    “Michael Shermer, Michael Ruse, Eugenie Scott and others are probably right that contemptuous ridicule is not an expedient way to change the minds of those who are deeply religious. But I think we should probably abandon the irremediably religious precisely because that is what they are – irremediable. I am more interested in the fence-sitters who haven’t really considered the question very long or very carefully. And I think that they are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt.”

    And this statement by the late Christopher Hitchens.

    “I think religion should be treated with ridicule, hatred and contempt, and I claim that right.”

    It seems to me that there is a double standard in society today. Harassment is looked down upon unless it is directed at those who hold religious beliefs. That should not be allowed, and just because we are Christians, doesn’t mean that we turn a blind eye towards that. I am constantly amazed by the anti-theists who go to Christian sites thinking that they are entitled to hurl insults, bully and harass us.

    The About section on the Reason Rally web site states that one of the purposes for the rally is to “(dispel) the negative opinions held by so much of American society.” This tactic of harassing and bullying, which the New Atheist leaders support and encourage, will not accomplish that goal and should be condemned even by the leaders of the New Atheists themselves.

  25. Grace,

    What I find interesting in the quote is this section “I am more interested in the fence-sitters who haven’t really considered the question very long or very carefully. And I think that they are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt.”

    They are explicitly targeting people who haven’t thought about the issues which makes sense, they’re the only ones who would be fooled into thinking their arguments have any merit. They employ school yard tactics of bullying to get people to think they are the cool group to join. It would be a joke if the stakes weren’t do high.

  26. Melissa,

    Yes, Dawkins is specifically targeting that group, but should there be a difference between the two groups of people? No group should be targeted for harassment, I’m sure you agree. New Atheists have interpreted his words to mean that they are entitled to harass anyone who has religious beliefs, as I have personally experienced (and I’m not straddling the fence). Yes, I see Dawkin’s message suggests that this is the best way to convince those on the fence to join their group, but another message he is sending subliminally is that it is their right to bully anyone who does not share their beliefs.

  27. Grace is doing a good job of helping to illustrate the problem I’m talking about. And I agree wholeheartedly with Grace’s desire to start seeing atheists leaders condemned for behavior and words like those highlighted. But note, I’m not even asking for some big unified and public condemnation – I’m asking for a line in the sand, a point at which Christians are willing to say, “This group has gone too far. As long as they support these acts, they’re not deserving of dialogue or discussion.”

    I keep pointing out that dialogue with non-believers and atheists is not the problem at all. I encourage that, I welcome it. But we’re talking about a particular sub-group (new atheists) of a sub group (atheists) of a sub-group (irreligious/non-religious). And the ‘problem people’ in this sub-sub-group happen to be highly-visible guys in leadership roles for the very people being ‘reached out to’, as opposed to my WBC example where it’s a tiny sect shunned by everyone in (and most out) of the mainstream.

    Not everyone is worthy of equal-partners dialogue, and the limit shouldn’t be as extreme as “when an existential threat is being offered”. Anyone who supports Blasphemy Day, Myers’ host desecration, Dawkins’ “Destroy Christianity by means of perpetrating a campaign of ridicule, hatred and contempt”, or the like shouldn’t have “dialogue offers” extended to them. They should be told they’re not worthy of dialogue – they should be spoken to, not spoken with. At least, until they denounce those actions.

    It’s not always a sign of maturity to try and calmly, civilly engage a person or a group who treats you with utter disdain.

  28. Dawkins writes:

    I think that they are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt.

    …which is in support of my point elsewhere. According to “rule #1” (“what I think that others think and do, I think and do myself”), the reason that Dawkins thinks this way is because he is ultra-sensitive to contempt. He advocates (de)conversion-by-contempt because it is likely that that is what “did it” for him!.
    Oh, rich irony that folks championing reason should shamelessly promote such tactics!

  29. And we’re really quite determined
    To be free from Moral Codes;
    We’re determined to escape them,
    So we kick against the goads.

    We’ve determined….”truth”’s subjective!
    Even then, it’s just a mist;
    We’re determined….There’s no Purpose;
    All true Meaning’s been dismissed!

    So, you see, we’re quite determined…
    Oh, my yes! We’re lean ‘n’ mean!
    We’re the Cult of Chemo-Cousins
    From the Tribe of Meat Machines.

  30. Our determined ‘terminations
    Have reduced our expections
    To the point that we’re unfit
    To see the trap while we’re in it.

  31. I have found this post to be intriguing. I am an non-theist and like Jubal and Tom Gibson I support this event, though I would like to see the format tweaked ..but in theory its a good thing.

    I am just surprised about all the negative attitudes or presumptions that atheists are going to be disruptive, wreak havoc and who knows what else. Myself, I think this is one of the challenges of being a normal human-being,non-theist. People tend to be leery about you, they tend to keep their distance and tend presume the worst in you…and thats just our family members! haha Its a stereotype thats really hard to beat. I honestly don’t think most average atheists are comparable to nasty hate groups and I dont think the average atheist would be anymore disruptive then anyone else.

    I dont think starting off the night by condemning people like Dawkins, checking out every atheists to a tea to make sure they are acceptable or not is a good idea as a precursor to dialogue even welcoming. Likewise I wouldnt want an atheist to start up by condemning any number of christian leaders before a debate even began.

    There is no question, however, that passionate people will go at length for whatever reason, whenever for anything that supports their cause. These people are not the vast majority for any group…though they are loud. I don’t think atheist are any different from Christians in this regard. I think the likelihood of a christian being disruptive at a public gathering is just about that equal with that of a non-theist. Non-theists are not all sinful, dirt bags filled with no morals and like wise not all Christians are saints.

    I think the idea of a plan in case things get out of hand is a good thing…but I dont think it should be the priority. I think it being the priority could be the little pebble stumbling block that tripped up an entire caravan of good.

    So if I might throw my two pennies about this..ha

    -I would like to see this being informal, in that, these discussions take place in small groups ( this way its less likely for disruption and a more personal dialogue)

    -I would like to see this be actual human interaction. I am just an average joe non-theist. Sometimes when speaking to an apologist I dont feel like i am speaking to an actual human being, in that, the language they use and process in which they use it. Sorta like talking to someone in the military who uses military jargon with a civilian.

    – If people are worried that atheists are going to be disruptive or burn the place down, why not have them in places we both frequent? Coffee shops, bookstores, etc? People are less likely to be nuts in public. Perhaps these places would sponsor a small corner or just have them there informally at your own will? Perhaps even ones backyard for a bbq? Perhaps I am too trusting…

    I don’t mind talking about why I don’t believe but I also have my reservations. I like it to be a personal, human interaction and I also want to be sure that I wont be called names or even prejudged as some pedophile with zero morals. I think lots of us have this problem. We too have been called names, judged, lost family and the like simply for being who we are…normal humans.

  32. It’s a lot easier for me to have a personal relationship with someone who isn’t busy condemning me to hell or chanting the mantra of me simply being “rebellious” against God.

    I also want to be sure that I wont be called names or even prejudged as some pedophile with zero morals.

    I know on this blog that I’ve been told quite authoritatively that atheists can’t have morals (or that we smuggle them in from Christianity), but I don’t think that we’ve been called pedophiles yet. Here, I mean.

  33. Sometimes when speaking to an apologist I dont feel like i am speaking to an actual human being, in that, the language they use and process in which they use it.

    I feel the same way when I’m on this site sometimes. Philosophy has its own jargon, and it is sometimes as obfuscating as it is insightful.

  34. The Concept of atheists’ in church day is awesome but I’m quite sure if they knew that that’s what it is called they wouldn’t come. All eyes will be on them. People comparing and trying to distinguish who are atheists and who are not.

    But the concept is good nonetheless.

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