Conservatives express outrage at art, public yawns October 24, 2010Posted by Evil Bender in wingnuts.
add a comment
It seems Brent Bozell just got around to noting that people are offended by art, and that’s okay as long as the artists is liberal or the art can be seen as anti-Christian. Most of his piece is the usual gibberish of the “government shouldn’t do things that offend me–now where are my wars of aggression, laws locking up pot smokers, and institutionalized homophobia” type. But he also makes some time to implicitly endorse those who destroy others’ property, as long as that property is artwork:
The artistic elites like to pretend that they’re the sophisticates, and their opponents are the uneducated brutes. But looking at weird and junky cartooning like Chagoya’s just makes you think the vandalism here wasn’t committed by the lady with the crowbar, but by the guy with the paints.
(h/t Sadly, No!)
Shorter Steve Pearce October 7, 2010Posted by Evil Bender in Morality, Religion.
add a comment
- I find the tenets of my religion burdensome, so instead of following them, I’ll accuse atheists of trying to outlaw prayer.
Actual Steve Pearce: “Christians are just sick and tired of turning the other cheek while our courts strip us of all our rights.”
Yeah: that whole “doing what Jesus said to do” is hard. Lying about atheists is easy!
(via PZ )
1 comment so far
[Sorry for my long absence from this poor, neglected blog. Real life has a bad habit of getting in the way. Hopefully I'll have more to say moving forward --EB]
Via PZ, we find one of the most patently ridiculous anti-atheist screeds I’ve encountered, which is saying something. It seems John Mark Reynolds is desperate to explain away the fact that Pew found atheists, on average, know more about religion than religious people do. Now, I haven’t had time to dig into the study to see if that fact holds true once education levels are controlled for. I suspect it may not, given that the strongest correlation to religious knowledge was by education level, and that atheism is also positively correlated with education level.
Alternatively, it’s entirely plausible that, given how few Americans are raised atheists, atheists know a lot about religion because religion is something they’ve actively rejected after learning more about it. It’s an interesting topic, and one well worth discussing. Unfortunately, Reynolds approaches it with embarrassing reflex anti-atheism, in a manner that would get laughed out of my college composition classes.
As a boutique belief system in the United States, atheism has a good many advantages. There are so few atheists and agnostics that they do not run all the risks of a populist movement. Not for them is the burden of dealing with the masses of a global population, their idiosyncrasies, worries and all.
We’re not off to a good start. Suffice it to say that if he made the same argument about, say, LGBT people or African Americans, the problem with Reynold’s thinking would be obvious to everyone including, I hope, Reynolds himself.
Since Christians make up three-quarters or more of the American general population, we have the burden of accounting for almost everybody’s problems.
This is nothing more than “White Man’s Burden” recast as an attempt to continue to pretend Christians in America are somehow oppressed, despite being an overwhelming majority and having huge influence on every aspect of American life.
Sadly, we are much less well represented in elite education, media, and government. This is not because religion is incompatible with elite education, but because “skepticism” about religion has become a sociological way for the elite to mark themselves off from the rest of us. In this sense, anti-religion (and in particularly anti-Catholicism) serves the same function that joining the “right” church used to serve in another era.
You’ll notice that Reynolds can’t be bothered to defend these claims, and seems to believe assertion is the same thing as evidence. See, people are atheists because it’s socially convenient. We’re apparently not meant to reflect on whether this is true for Christians, especially given how hard it is for “out” atheists to hold public office. (Or is it just the disproportionate number of Jews in government he’s objecting to? It’s certainly not atheists.) Nor would Reynolds have us reflect on how it’s socially beneficial to be atheist, given the overwhelming anti-atheist sentiment in society. If atheists are secretly holding their beliefs only for social status, it’s clearly at the expense of being the most distrusted group in the country. At very least, Reynolds needs to martial evidence for this claim, and he’s apparently incapable of that.
The secular elite has provided most of us with wretched religious education by all but banning it as a topic for serious enquiry or discussion.
Naturally, he doesn’t bother to defend this claim either. I wonder how the “elite . . . all but bann[ed]” it, given the overwhelming Christian majority. I wonder what that banning looks like. I wonder where are the places where discussion of religion can’t happen. Certainly not in public schools, given that religious works can be taught in literature and comparative religion classes. Certainly not on my campus, where Christian groups on campus drastically outnumber–and out-member–atheist groups.
Meanwhile, they know just enough about religion to get some “facts” right on a pop-religion quiz, but have no grasp on why, despite all temptations, some thoughtful folk remain religious. They know some of the lyrics of religion, but cannot hear the music.
Awesome: “facts” in quotation marks. Does he believe the “facts” were wrong, or is he just unaware of the conventions of quotation mark usage? Who can say? For that matter, how is it any condemnation of atheists that “some” thoughtful people stay religious? That’s one of the most embarrassing attempts at a critique I’ve ever read, right up there with a student of mine who once argued in a paper that the biblical prohibition against homosexuality applied today while the prohibition against shellfish did not because “they’re in completely different chapters.”
And Reynolds wonders why atheists might have trouble taking religion seriously.
You might blame Christian education in churches for this problem, except a culture of entertainment has reduced most Americans ability to tolerate difficult discussions. Pity the pastor, with seminary training in ancient languages and a carefully constructed sermon, who must face a congregation taught by television to anticipate education with Muppets and Katy Perry.
You see, Christians would know more about religion, but they can’t because atheists are controlling the Media!!!1! How it is that these same atheists somehow know more than the poor pitied pastor’s flock, despite also being raised in the same culture is, of course, not explained.
The rise of fundamentalist sects of religion may have more to do with this culture of entertainment than anything else. The kind of religion hucksters sell on television in the same time slot as quack diets is offered as religious as entertainment.
Atheist culture sells fundamentalism and is responsible for religious huckers. This is the Liberal Fascism of religious arguments.
If atheism ever catches on, you can be sure that it too will suffer from hucksters and cultural deprivations. Google the music of atheist Dan Barker to see what the future may hold if atheism gets big enough in the general population to get some of the ills they have foisted on us. (See video below)
To which I can only reply: have you heard Christian “rock”? Seriously, dude, you’re trying to martial a case against atheism and what you have is a song on YouTube? I do know thoughtful religious folk, quite a few of them. It’s safe to say Reynolds isn’t among that number, given the complete ineptness of his argument.
On the ground, government school teachers also are shackled by the same dulled students. Too much entertainment has made many students like the burned characters in an Oscar Wilde play without any of the wit. For that reason, most of us who teach rejoice in any student who challenges anything.
Reynolds is apparently hoping that his readers won’t notice he hasn’t actually defended any of his points, and so won’t realize that he’s arguing atheism –> dumb pop culture –> dulled students –> no one understands religion, without having defended any aspect of his argument. Seriously, if atheists were running things do you think “Jesus Take the Wheel” would have been a big hit?
It’s worth noting again how transparently obvious his BS would be if he was arguing about, say, Jews instead of atheists.
As the default belief of American history, the cause of theism is supplied with students who affirm belief in a Creator, but are oft too numbed by cultural ugliness to grasp the beautiful idea that He has “endowed them with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
We’re not meant to notice that the author of that phrase was no traditional Theist. Thomas Jefferson’s religious views were complex and perhaps changed over time, but he certainly wouldn’t have meant his phrasing to exclude non-theists. It’s embarrassing that I have to explain this to Reynolds.
Nor is it that serious intellectual endeavor and Christianity are incompatible. Safe to say few of us outthink Jonathan Edwards, let alone contemporary religious scholars such as Alvin Plantinga and Francis Collins.
Serious Christians do exist. I visit many churches where regular folk are carefully reading great books and wrestling with great ideas, but this activity is not encouraged in the broader culture.
Every teacher I know wishes we had a stronger cultural tradition of thoughtful debate, reading and engagement with ideas. Given that atheists know a great deal about religion, it would seem we’re even in favor of more debate on that topic. Hell–every atheist I know wish more people would read the Bible! A close reading of that book makes a great case for atheism. Again, we have slight-of-hand, trying to pass of the banal observation that it would be better if people engaged more thoroughly with ideas as somehow a critique of atheists. Yawn.
Weirdly, Christians must clean up the mess of broader culture, but we have had little power to create pop culture in the last fifty years.
To paraphrase the internets, Evidence: he does not has.
The poor and the disadvantaged are always the first to bear the brunt of bad cultural ideas and only the religious remain on the ground to try to help. Christians, for example, try to keep people from doing the things that get men sent to prison, but then work hard to help prisoners once people fail.
Conflating morality with law is an old trick, and one you’d expect a thoughtful Christian to know better than to use. I’m just an atheist interested in trivia, according to Reynolds, but even I know what Jesus thought of those who obsessed over the law and pretended they were encouraging morality. (Hint to Reynolds: he wasn’t a fan.)
In this sense it is easier to be an agnostic or atheist. You have rejected the mainstream of American history, which means you don’t have to take responsibility for its failures, though you can appropriate its successes.
Interesting, given that this is precisely what Reynolds in engaged in. As PZ put it, Reynolds is arguing that ”Christianity is entirely responsible for all the important stuff, but somehow, this insignificant film of godless elitists are entirely responsible for every one of the faults of society.” But remember that it’s atheists who are engaged in this behavior according to Reynolds. Projection, anyone?
In my experience an atheist or agnostic is mostly a Bible Baptist looking for social mobility, a function the Episcopal Church used to play before theological liberalism made it too nineteenth-century to take seriously in the twenty-first.
Yawn. At least atheists have the decency to credit our opponents with the beliefs they claim to hold: it isn’t us walking around saying “you’re only a Christian for the social benefits of an interconnected church.” Look, jackass: one doesn’t decide to hold a massively unpopular view that draws the ire of the vast majority of the country for the social benefits. I’m an atheist because I think there’s no compelling evidence for a god or gods. I know of precisely one local gathering of atheists and agnostics. There are no fewer than four churches within an easy walk of my house, and dozens within a five-minute drive. Who, exactly, is gaining social benefits?
If you want someone to provide intellectual uplift to Appalachia or to the inner cities, you are going to have to look to a graduate of Al Mohler’s seminary, because the “skeptics” will have all moved to gated enclaves where the only theist that will clutter their conversational space will be the man cutting their grass.
Yup, we’re all hidden away in secret atheist enclaves, well away from the religious. At this point I’m seriously beginning to question whether even Reynolds believes the shit he’s shovelling.
To their credit, secularists have rejected something, and this generally means knowing something about what one has rejected. This is true, if by “knowing something” one means getting quiz show questions right–not understanding.
And of course it’s time for him to transition into the Courtier’s Reply. He’s also going to toss in a bit of old fashioned gnosticism, arguing that only the chosen can truly understand. As far as attempts at persuasion go, this barely rises to Creationist Argument levels.
Pew has released a study that shows if the average atheist and the average theist appear on religious Jeopardy, the theist is in trouble. However, wisdom and understanding are different from “just the facts.” It is good to know facts, but that doesn’t mean you get it.
Every year I have students who can tell me many of the details of the Republic, but cannot read a dialogue as a dialogue. They are worse than useless in any discussion, because once they have given us a Wikipedia overview of the text, they have nothing left to say. They have memorized an opinion (“Meno is about recollection. Recollection is an epistemological view that . . . “) and nobody is going to get them off topic. If you want to win Platonic Trivial Pursuit, they are your man, but if you want to understand Plato they are quickly left behind.
To recap: atheists don’t understand the significance of religion because his students can’t fully engage Plato. It’s argument by anecdote, and he can’t even be bothered to make the anecdote relevant.
My experience is that “street level” atheism is often just this way. At some point, usually in junior high, the street level atheist sees intellectual problems in his childhood faith or the “hypocrisy” in the church. These problems, sadly, get no real answers and it does not occur to the young person that any group that upholds any standard will attract hypocritical behavior.
Atheists are just junior high kids. Classy and completely relevant. For someone who argues atheists don’t engage religious thought, he sure spends a lot of time making straw men.
The budding secularist gets the delightful feeling of intellectual superiority and then does a Google to discover the fabulous world of Internet atheism! When you combine this new found sense of being an “insider” with relief that all those nasty religious demands to love the weak and to moderate one’s desires can be dismissed, you have a powerful force in anybody’s life. At this point, even exposure to the religious intellectual tradition will not help, as the trajectory has been set.
Jesus motherfuckin’ Christ. Where to begin? Atheists are useless because they learn from other atheists. They don’t have real conviction, they just want to be an “insider.” They’re only atheists because they want to be cruel to others and live as hedonists. Seriously, Mr. Reynolds: you’re literally guilty of every crime you try to pin on atheists here.
And for the record, I came to atheism as an adult, after a whole life in the church, because I found religion’s arguments unconvincing. It didn’t hurt that I found out that the atheist positions I’d seen discussed by Christians were strawmen with no relevance to actual atheist argument. Ahem.
Of course, there is a wholly different secular tradition that came to atheism and agnosticism after hard work and thought. They might not believe in God, but they understand why some of their colleagues do. They get what is good about religion as well as its difficulties. These secular voices are too often drowned out by the bleats of Dawkins and the Internet atheists.
What should be done?
False dichotomy, anyone? Reynolds seriously tries to argue there are two groups of atheists: unreformed jr. high kids and serious atheists. He defines serious atheists as those who aren’t on the internet and give due respect to religion. Naturally, Reynolds seems confident he knows just how much respect is required: the only serious atheists are those who are pro-religion.
First, Americans must recognize that nothing has been done to us that we have not allowed. We must reject being entertained and demand to be educated. When television personalities like Glenn Beck sell tens of thousands of serious books by authors such as Hayek, I am more hopeful.
Really, I could just stop this post here. His idea of “education” is Glenn Beck (!!!) promoting a 1944 book that argued Labor economic policies would lead to totalitarianism. Beck is promoting the book with the argument that Hayek was proven correct (!!!). Reynold’s is holding up an anti-scholar promoting an idea that was definitively disproven by history, and claiming that’s what we need in this country as education.
That says everything you need to know about the seriousness of Reynolds’ thought.
Second, religious Americans must reject the temptation to retreat into a comforting anti-intellectualism. For Christians at least, we are called to live by faith and faith is intellectual. It is not merely intellectual, it is driven by love, but head and heart can never be separated.
Christians wishing to follow his advice would be well served to seek intellectualism somewhere beyond the tripe Reynolds enjoys flinging about.
Third, we must demand that our government schools teach religion, not just the “facts” but with understanding. Wisdom will only come when we recognize why billions of the world’s people believe what they do. This means that majority Christians must also accept charitable expositions of other faiths. When the state of Texas demands less coverage of Islam this is a bad step.
Either this is a banal argument that can’t be put into practice (what would teaching “wisdom” in class look like?) or it’s a push to make overt pro-religious arguments in classrooms, which is clearly in violation of the 1st Amendment. There seems to be no other plausible interpretation. Either he’s banal or opposed to the 1st Amendment. Readers may decide which.
We must do unto others as we would have them do to us. We must allow students to read books that come from different traditions, from atheism to paganism. The intellectual growth that will result will not be the sort that can be captured in a fill-in-the-blanks or multiple choice exam. Instead, we are going to have to support government school budgets that to allow for small discussion classes that can produce a deeper understanding of important ideas.
If religious folk take seriously the idea they need to engage with other traditions, they might even catch us useless atheists in religious knowledge. But how will they be sure they have the precious gnosis needed to be more than trivial? Why, thoughtful religious people like Reynolds will no doubt be happy to insure them they do.
Ignorance about things vital to our fellow citizens is harmful to the Republic.
So maybe this rant should have been directed at know-nothing believers rather than atheists?
For example, one of the most influential books first published by an American is the Book of Mormon. It appears in almost no American government school curriculum, though it exercises a global influence and impacts the lives of millions of Americans. This is foolish. I am, to say the least, no Mormon partisan, but there are entire states in our nation that cannot be understood without some grounding in Mormon thought.
How many American college graduates have a more charitable comprehension of the indigenous culture of Paris than of Salt Lake City? Mormon Utah can only wish it were treated as gently as “other cultures” are in a politically correct curriculum.
I’m totally in favor of this. Everyone should take a comparative religion class. We can discuss Joseph Smith’s method of acquiring his holy texts along with the virgin birth. By all means, please join us atheists in actually engaging with what religious texts teach. We find precious few believers are interested in doing so.
Finally, Christians, the vast majority of the population, should demand that their churches do more intellectual work. Most pastors would be eager to teach more doctrine, if they thought their congregants would tolerate it. We must make sure they know we will not tolerate the Church worshipping at the altar of the entertainment idol.
Don’t forget, though, that this is atheists problem, not Christians–for some reason that goes carefully unexplained.
The Pew Study demonstrates that facts are not enough. We need people that know the facts, but also know the meaning those facts have. All of us must recognize that the meaning we give “the facts” has been and will be challenged by other well informed citizens.
As usual, no evidence and no serious attempt at analysis.
Last night hundreds of regular Evangelical people took precious free time to come to a university to hear a first-rate theologian, Fred Sanders, teach from his magnificent new book on the Trinity. Daily Sanders moves his high level scholarship into the pews and eventually this work with show up in surveys from Pew. Fred Sanders and the ministries springing up all over America like his prove there is a hunger for religious knowledge and this gives me hope for the coming generation.
They will be capable of winning Trivial Pursuit, but too busy pursuing wisdom to play.
If only Christians would behave like Reynolds says he wants them to, ignoring atheist entertainment and taking what the Courtier says seriously, then we wouldn’t have these problems with religious illiteracy. If religious people want to get serious about engaging the ideas of faith–and lack of faith–they could start by demanding a higher standard from their own “thinkers” than the lazy projections, assertions and straw men that Reynolds is providing.