an atheist peace

A few days ago, I read They Don’t SPEAK for Me by Bruce Gerencser, as linked to by the awesome John Loftus, and my first reaction was that I objected rather strenuously to the notion that all believers share a certain guilt by association when one of their leaders says or does reprehensible things (ex: Pat Robertson). More specificallly:

I understand why you are upset. I used to get upset too when I was lumped together with people I despised or disagreed with.

However…when I join a group, church,political party or family I have to accept the baggage that comes with the association.

And I thought, wait, no, that’s not right, I can’t blame my Christian friends because some other random person representing themselves as the same religion is acting like a complete asshat. This actually kept me awake much longer than I expected it to — had I known, I would have just sat up right then and there and written this.

But the next day, I re-read the post and changed my mind, I think my first perception of it was colored by the title chosen by Mr. Loftus, as I was thinking along the lines of “lumping all Christians together” being the bad thing, but on that second read it became more clear that it was about urging Christians to take responsibility for their choice of associations. Taking responsibility is good, right?

And then I thought about it some more, and that first impression returned. So, am I saying that people of faith bear no responsibility for the actions of other with whom the voluntarily align themselves? No! Just wanted to make that clear, in case you think me an apologist of sorts. Not that I am free of apologist tendencies, but let’s not go off on that tangent right this moment, ok?

My disagreement comes from this: Telling all members of any faith that they must own the consequences of things done by extremists claiming the same religious label would only be fair if all members of that faith shared the same or even substantially similar sets of beliefs – but they don’t. There are such widely divergent views within the different factions of the major religions (let alone between the major religions themselves) that I am not comfortable with telling every Christian they must accept that they are connected directly to Scott Roeder, any more than I would tell every Muslim that they are connected directly to Umar Abdulmutallab. To identify everyone in a group as associates of its most infamous worst-case examples just seems unfair to me.

And when I look at these examples and reflect on the crazy huge number of completely different things a person might mean when they speak of their beliefs in a god or gods, it comforts me to contemplate an Atheist’s Peace (video & lyrics follow in the ‘more’ area)

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Quaker group stops certifying marriages until gay marriage legal

A Minnesota group of Quakers, or as they call themselves, the Society of Friends, has joined a handful of other groups nationwide in refusing to sign marriage certificates for opposite sex couples.

“We’re simply trying to be consistent with the will of God as we perceive it,” said Paul Landskroener, clerk of the Twin Cities Friends Meeting, in an interview with MPR’s All Things Considered on Monday.

The congregation will continue to hold both opposite-sex and same-sex weddings at its meeting house, but will no longer sign the legal marriage certificate for opposite-sex couples. Instead, couples will need to have the certificate signed by a justice of the peace.

“Everything else proceeds as it normally has, except that we will not sign the marriage certificate,” Landskroener said.

Unlike many churches, Quakers do not have ordained ministers. Couples are married by appearing before the congregation and speaking their vows to each other. Several witnesses then sign the marriage certificate to pronounce the couple legally married. [source]

The god of their understanding sounds like a lovely fellow, I wish more gods would adopt that sort of fair and loving view of things.

h/t Pam’s House Blend

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good news roundup

In the interest of peace on earth and goodwill toward everyone, I present to you four separate instances of religious people and atheists behaving decently toward one another:

In St. Helena, a devout Christian and an atheist met for the first time, talked nonstop over breakfast about their respective beliefs or lack thereof, and decided they had no reason to dislike one another:

Our views had almost nothing in common. We did not even agree on the nature of what is real. We did agree that there was no reason for ill will between us.

In Denver, sheriff Jim Alderden (aka, Balloon Boy Sheriff), invited some atheists to his annual “Politically Incorrect Christmas Party.”

Alderden invited two atheist groups to participate after they wrote him asking that he stop the display. He says he wants to be inclusive and told them he had a “big, empty spot for the atheists” at Saturday’s party.

The Colorado Coalition of Reason will erect a sign urging people to illuminate their minds with reason during the winter-solstice season.

In Baltimore, the Right Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton declared that atheists are no threat to religious leaders:

“As a follower of Christ, I would love for everyone to not only experience this yearning but to also know the creator who imbued us with it,” O’Brien said. “But, being part of a free, pluralistic society is living in community with people who have different faith commitments or no faith commitment at all and to work together to find common ground in working toward the common good.”

Independent Catholic News posted a fair and factual account of the recent intelligence² debate between Richard Dawkins, A C Grayling, Richard Harries and Charles Moore. Before the debate, 334 attendees voted in favor of the motion, with 675 against and 389 undecided. Afterward, 363 voted in favor of the motion, with 1070 against it and 85 undecided. One might find the ICN’s assertion that “While Harries and Moore lost the debate, they managed to persuade a good number of undecided attendees” to be a bit of a stretch — however upon further consideration and after watching the videos, an increase of 29 probably was a good number, all things considered.

See? We really can all just get along.

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moderate vs. militant

Amazing post on Hurtling Through Space, addressing the “all Christians are…” fallacy and arguing for moderation in the way atheists approach conflicts between religion and rationalism. It’s an amazing post and you should go read the entire thing, but the conclusion struck me as particularly relevant and important:

Yes, it’s awful that in the 21st century billions of the world’s population are still slaves to Bronze Age superstitions. But no, screeching like a banshee at your neighbour isn’t going to make them suddenly say, “You know what… you’ve been insulting everything I’ve ever valued for years now, but I see it now: you’re right!” Just because something may be provably wrong, it doesn’t mean that an otherwise intelligent person will see it that way — you’re staring in the face of cognitive dissonance .

So am I advocating appeasement? Certainly not. But a large number of worldwide scientific community do not consider themselves atheists. Are they to be excluded from scientific endeavour? Again, certainly not. The same is true of the average member of the public. Religions and superstitions may be laughable and ridiculous, but they kill thousands of people every day and are not to be underestimated in terms of their importance to the people that hold them. And some of those people may love you and be hurt deeply whenever, by inference, you call them imbeciles.

Unfortunately, I don’t know what the solution is — or even if there is one, at least that doesn’t involve totalitarianism — but I am certain that the lumping of people like my great-uncle in the same basket as a religious terrorist is wrong. And yet I see it every day in the atheist blogs I read, and in the other atheistic and even new media I consume: the deliberate misrepresentation of members of a faith as if they’re all as bad as the worst public figure in that faith. It’s wrong and it has to stop.

And, in the same general way I both agreed and disagreed with Michael Shermer in my first real post on this blog, I both agree and disagree with this article as well. (more…)

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atheism & identity

In the Friendly Atheist’s latest post, Atheism Inherently Offends, he disagrees with Herb Silverman’s observation:

Saying you don’t believe in God is no more anti-Christian or anti-religious than saying you are black is anti-white, saying you are female is anti-male, or saying you are gay is anti-straight. In the words of that great philosopher, Popeye the Sailor Man: “I yam what I yam.”

Friendly Atheist’s response:

There is a fundamental difference between saying you are an atheist and saying you are black, white, female, male, gay, or straight. Those are all personal statements and don’t reflect on others.  Identity is pluralistic – there are as many identities as there are people, and none of them are “incorrect”.

Declaring myself an atheist states what I think is true in the world.  Unlike the other examples, the assertion is not simply a personal statement about identity.  It is a truth-claim about the objective facts of reality – and I am saying I think religious individuals are wrong about those facts.  That is anti-religious.

There is one reality and some of us are correct while others are incorrect.  It’s no longer merely a statement about myself – in essence I’m saying, “I don’t believe God exists and neither should you.”

I appreciate Friendly Atheist’s approach, but I see it a bit differently. First of all, while I may wish that everyone shared my skepticism, their beliefs are really none of my business, as long as they grant my atheism the same courtesy. When I tell someone I am an atheist, I tend to follow right up (perhaps a little defensively) by saying I respect the beliefs of others, as long as they’re not involved in trying to deny the rights of others or in any way force their way of thinking on people who disagree with them.

I agree that identifying as an atheist is different from identifying by race, gender, or orientation — atheism is a choice, the others aren’t. But atheism is still an important facet of one’s identity, in fact it is one of the primary identification questions asked on, for instance, medical forms. Views on the afterlife are taken into consideration in any situation in which a person might die, so that the appropriate provisions can be made. (more…)

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