Question of the Week: February 25, 2015

Feb 24, 2015

The slayings of three Muslims in Chapel Hill, N.C., by a purported atheist, raises the question of whether criticizing the religious beliefs of others is an inherently intolerant or provocative act.  Sam Harris argues on his podcast that there is no validity to this claim. Do you agree or disagree, and why? Our favorite entry wins the writer a copy of Richard Dawkins An Appetite for Wonder.


Congratulations to fergie123. They will receive a copy of Richard Dawkins’ An Appetite for Wonder soon.

Winner: fergie123
Runner-up: ufischer

214 comments on “Question of the Week: February 25, 2015

  • Yes, criticising another’s belief or mind-set is inherently intolerant or provocative per se. To take such a position requires that one does not tolerate the other’s stated belief, whether it be about a scientific matter, a work related topic or religious belief or indeed racist or sexist beliefs. Criticism is usually delivered to provoke a reaction so it is also, by definition, provocative. So the question should not logically be “whether criticizing the religious beliefs of others is an inherently intolerant or provocative act”. It should simply be whether criticism of religious belief is acceptable. However, assuming the tone of the claim implies that such criticism is regarded by those with religious convictions as hostile, abusive or insulting, this could be claimed by any recipient of such attention. What makes religion so special as to be above and beyond criticism? Why is it different to those who hold misogynistic beliefs or who believe that the genital mutilation of children is acceptable? Both of whom are actively and rightly criticised. I have never heard a reasonable answer to this and I do not believe one exists.



    Report abuse

  • Criticizing religion or any beliefs for that matter is perfectly fair, but the manner in which you criticize is most important. Militant atheists like Dawkins and Harris (and one could include the “secular stars” on this site) consistently use abusive language and insults when speaking about people of faith. Their criticisms of faith slide into personal insult even to the point of Dawkins encouraging his followers at a DC rally in 2012 to mock believers openly. I see the same trend happening on many Christian sites where Christians deviate from criticizing atheism to being abusive with atheists (the letters Richard read recently are a perfect example). And less I toss the first stone, I find myself getting frustrated on this site at times, and my comments get snarky and sarcastic (for which I apologize).

    When we allow rudeness and animosity into our discourse, it serves to inflame the “faithful” (or should I say the fanatic.) Not only does this create more heat than light, but it serves to push extremists on all sides closer to the edge of violence. As atheism grows, it will attract more and more fanatics, and the leaders of the movement are responsible for the rhetoric they deliver to their followers. Of course, the same is true for leaders of faith. Civil discourse is essential, and both atheists and the religious needs to come to grips with the fact that neither of us is going anywhere, and we need to disagree and then move on to work together. If we continue with the delusions that the other side is the source of all the world’s problems, then we’re doomed to devolve into cycles of mockery, hatred and yes eventually violence upon each other.



    Report abuse

  • Nordic11 Feb 24, 2015 at 5:02 pm

    Criticizing religion or any beliefs for that matter is perfectly fair, but the manner in which you criticize is most important.

    I would agree that all views are open to objective criticism, and that polite exchanges are a good way to go about this with people who are prepared to engage in honest reasoned argument or debate.

    Militant atheists like Dawkins and Harris (and one could include the “secular stars” on this site) consistently use abusive language and insults when speaking about people of faith.

    I think that varies with the faith and the attitude of the believers. Some people will regard any criticism as “abusive”!

    Their criticisms of faith slide into personal insult even to the point of Dawkins encouraging his followers at a DC rally in 2012 to mock believers openly.

    With those who are dishonest, and not open to reason (Such as Ham and Hovind), mockery is probably the best option.
    One of the problems in criticising religions, is that believers frequently jump to the conclusion that criticisms are specifically directed at their personal religion. (Sometimes they are of course) It has also been my experience that members of the RCC commonly use the term “religion” to mean “Catholicism”.

    Coming back to the OP-topic, I put a link and a comment on the news reports here!

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2015/02/the-chapel-hill-murders-and-militant-atheism/#li-comment-169361

    They suggest that this was mainly a dispute over car parking between neighbours, involving a gun-toting person with a short temper.



    Report abuse

  • In a way Nordic is right. There should be a “civil discourse”. But there again why not a robust exchange of ideas ? Are we going to pussyfoot around important topics because someone might get “offended” ? I fear the believers have played that particular card too often.



    Report abuse

  • I agree. Now, I do not know much about this case (in topic) but it seems that it was a very long dispute over car parking lot.

    Anyway,… about criticism. I think that I have right to say my opinion about religion as much as religious think they have the same right. But, if they regard that opinion as criticism, that is not my fault. Why would non religious “critics” be regarded as bad and not allowed, and those of religious person as good and allowed? Religious have criticized non religious for centuries, I might regard their opinions as criticism of common sense and an insult to it. Earth was created? And not only that, but created before Sun, and other cosmic bodies?! What!! If they have the right to say something stupid as that, I have the right to reply,… and if they experience that as an criticism than what can I do, I am not responsible for their psychological processes. Perhaps they need to be more educated.



    Report abuse

  • It is not intolerant to point out that believing in the existence of something, the existence of which it is impossible to prove, is an unreasonable belief. Pointing out the doubtfulness of the belief is more an attempt to free the individual from the burden of unfounded belief and superstition. Persuading someone to question the beliefs that they believe should not be questioned is a tolerant and benevolent act intended to befree an individual from ignorance and false belief and blind faith. This is provocative only in a positive sense, in that questioning the foundation for someone’s beliefs is intended to make them aware that their beliefs cannot be shown to be true, or to be factual. To help someone out of ignorance and instruct them in clear and rational, logical thinking is a benevolent emancipating act, not an expression of intolerance.



    Report abuse

  • To the specific question of whether criticism of religious belief is inherently intolerant or provocative, the answer is clearly no. There is nothing requiring a criticism of religion to be intolerant or provocative. That being said, many of these criticisms are very specifically intended to be either or both. And, provocation can be a very legitimate catalyst for discussion. Likewise, many are interpreted that way when not intended to be so. There are a lot of very defensive people out there seeking to be offended in any way possible.



    Report abuse

  • and my comments get snarky and sarcastic (for which I apologize).

    But we need you (and everyone) to speak their mind not just their manicured thoughts but their feelings too. Maybe its because of an impairment in my ability to read faces and infer emotional states, but hearing that strength of feeling is important information about personal values.

    I feel I need not only your cross-ness displayed but that of Muslims blazing at the immorality of western culture. I feel I want others to know I blaze, just blaze, at immoralities too.

    I have no issue with abuse levelled at ideologies as a means of signalling a level of personal distaste. At individuals? No, unless highly evidenced (eg William Lane Craig’s further defence of Godly genocide…what wicked ideas to put in the minds of “righteous” victors.) And no if it is about a population and essentialist about their nature (excepting the Welsh, of course, and Scousers.)

    Here, though, Hicks evidenced no essentialist animus towards Muslims, indeed, defended their rights, but flipped out over a personal issue. I would rather this discussion had not been hinged upon it.



    Report abuse

  • How can one tolerate another person’s stated beliefs? I can tell you that I believe that the Earth is flat. You can disagree, but that doesn’t make you intolerant! Actions can be tolerated, not beliefs, so I think your argument is wrong!



    Report abuse

  • Any religion which encourages its followers to proselytize is by definition critical of the ability of all other religions to deliver what they promise and of atheism for not accepting what they say. Therefore whilst I am not proactive in criticizing religions I will always respond when they and their followers attempt to sell their product.



    Report abuse

  • They suggest that this was mainly a dispute over car parking between
    neighbours, involving a gun-toting person with a short temper.

    He would have had to have had some superhuman strength not to have been effected by the recent media view of islam and the Hebdo murders. Simple answers are almost always wrong.



    Report abuse

  • I agree with everything you say, but it seems that civilized discourse has failed us! Religion still plays too much of a role in our government, in our schools and in our lives. It drives bad policy, bad education and only serves the “faithful”. That being said, I don’t think we need to attack people personally, but attacking bad ideas is not only a right, but to me seems like an obligation! If we want what’s best for humanity and for our future generations, we should criticize and do away with bad ideas!



    Report abuse

  • 13
    ufischer says:

    Intolerance, absent violence or the threat thereof, is in the mind of the self-proclaimed victim of intolerance. In fact, criticizing someone’s religious belief is doing that person a huge favour if it succeeds in freeing that person from the mind-numbing influence of his religion. Given (and it is given by numerous studies of the matter) that those regions of the world most heavily infected with the God Virus (note the respectful use of Capitalization) are the same regions with the worst average quality of life by any measure you care to use, not only is criticism of religion on a one on one basis a favour for the person being addressed, it is a step forward for her entire social group. So for those reasons, I completely agree with Sam Harris on this issue.



    Report abuse

  • You can be critical of any proposition without being intolerant of the contrary position. Indeed, civil discourse mandates that you be tolerant of the person holding the affirmative or negative viewpoint in any debate. Of course all bets are off if your discourse is not intended to be civil. Intolerance implies that the contrary religious beliefs will not be tolerated in the same way that most people do not tolerate the digestion of dairy products. However, since atheists do not generally go about physically assaulting, verbally abusing, or denying rights and services to religious people, it is obvious that the issue of intolerance is somewhat moot. Although, (if I’m being truthful) most religious beliefs do give me gas. It can be stated, and indeed should be stated, that the intent of any communication is an act of provocation. When I kindly order an artisanal ale from the local brewer I am provoking that individual into action which will hopefully result in me consuming a pint of hop-filled bliss. If I rudely and violently demand that same pint the provocation will likely not end up in the way that I would desire. So any communication can be seen to provoke either thought or action on the part of the receiver. The act of criticizing someone’s core beliefs does not necessarily need to incite the receiving party into violence or even of physical action of any kind. It could be a provocation of thought. The real issue is to know that how you communicate with someone is just as important as what information the actual communication contains. Unfortunately, as anyone who is married will know, how the communication is intended is not always the way that it is received, and the type and magnitude of the response will always be in the control of the receiver – which is why my doghouse has bunk beds.



    Report abuse

  • …the question of whether criticizing the religious beliefs of others is
    an inherently intolerant or provocative act.

    It’s only provocative because many religions set themselves up that way; they tell/instruct their followers that it is not acceptable to be criticized.

    As for intolerance, let’s remember that the word “tolerance” means that you do not agree with something but keep your mouth shut in order to (usually) prevent unpleasantness. It’s just a variation on hypocrisy. I suppose there are situations where tolerance is warranted, but for me, religion usually doesn’t qualify.

    In the end, my logic is simply this: when people belong to an organization which states that people who do not believe as they do (or believe incorrectly) deserve to be tortured for ever, how can these people expect me to tolerate, respect and not criticize what their organization stands for? And it doesn’t matter if followers don’t actually agree with this part of their religion. The mere fact that you know that this is what your organization states AND you still remain part of it automatically makes me intolerant and critical of what you stand for. Period.



    Report abuse

  • 16
    Melinda says:

    Telling my teenage son that video games are not the most efficient use of his time on this planet could be seen as criticism and Intolerance and as such shut down any functional communication between us in that moment.

    What is the point Of speaking if the person you are speaking to isn’t open to learning/listening/a different point of view.

    Humans have egos and strong defence mechanisms designed to activate when a belief that makes us feel good or safe or happy or like we know ‘the truth’ is challenged.

    Skeptics must learn to communicate with others in ways that consider the following questions:

    What is your intention in speaking?
    Is what you are about to say, and how you are about to say it, likely to accomplish that intention?
    Have you asked this person if they are interested in hearing anything that might be contrary to their current perspective?
    Have you asked them what is important to them about continuing to hold their belief?

    If you can’t reassure a person those needs that are being met in holding their current belief will be met even more by hearing you, they will not listen – defence mechanisms will arise and you will be shut out- it’s how the brain works.

    So if you’re going to speak- in a podcast or otherwise to people whose beliefs you’d like to change don’t forget to a. Make sure they are open and b. Make sure that you are communicating in a way that makes it safe for them to hear. After all- is your goal to be right at all costs? or Is your goal to help this person to open their own mind; to help them become someone who questions everything- including you?

    The latter takes a little longer perhaps but generates openness and respect and a budding free thinker. While the former generates fear and hostility and an increasingly closed mind.



    Report abuse

  • Religion can be criticized. Once a religion is used to restrict rights and harm the innocent, then the religion can be criticized. Ignoring religion, while it is darkly weaponized, enables the restrictions and harm. Religion can targeted because it targets. It targets women. It targets homosexuals. It targets everyone outside of religion and followers of different religions. Tolerance is not silence in the face of harm and oppression.

    We have a right of expression, especially in defense. Our expression should be effective so we should have a debate on which paths and manners of discussion are most effective. Yet, we should not have a debate if we should or should not engage in discussion in the first place.

    In my life, I have found the warmest path of discussion to be the most successful. Sell the romance of wonder and life as we know it. We should not be silent. We should be effective.



    Report abuse

  • I would say that criticising religion need not be provocative or intolerant and for evidence I would cite the academic fields of theology, biblical studies, and religious studies, etc… as proof. 😉



    Report abuse

  • An act can be violent and provocative or only provocative but not violent or neither. Criticizing the religious beliefs of others or indeed any other belief is certainly provocative in the sense that it is meant to provoke the recipient into rebutting or otherwise respond. But that is the extent of it. It certainly cannot be construed as being (verbally) violent. Believers of religion are probably subconsciously aware how ill founded their beliefs are and in a desperate bid to cling to them, censor critics through fatwas, inquisitions and social ostracism.



    Report abuse

  • After all- is your goal to be right at all costs? or Is your goal to
    help this person to open their own mind; to help them become someone
    who questions everything- including you?

    It does sometimes feel that scientist forget about the science needed.



    Report abuse

  • 22
    Susanne says:

    Please bear with my not so good english.

    I would like to comment on:
    “The slayings of three Muslims in Chapel Hill, N.C., by a purported atheist, raises the question of whether criticizing the religious beliefs of others is an inherently intolerant or provocative act.”

    In this case I think the question could be: “Can an atheist kill for religious reasons?”
    I think not. If you are an atheist you have no reason to kill Muslims for religious reasons since you don’t believe in religion. If you kill Muslims for religious reasons you are not an atheist.

    So either the murderer was not an atheist but in some kind of opposition to Allah/Islam or he was a bad person who did something horrific.
    If he killed these three young people because they were Muslims and he was an atheist then his anger must stem from another source (political, racial, personal – what have you).

    There would be much more relevant questions to ask here: E.g. why don’t Americans reform their gun policy?

    If we want to live in democratic countries we have to be able to point out/criticize the absurdity of people in power, governments and religions. And others have the right to disagree with us.

    Is this a way to try to involve atheism in the never ending war between religions?



    Report abuse

  • It is a common misunderstanding that a debate is for the benefit of the debaters. It is more often for the benefit of the onlookers.

    I most often would like to think my complaints of others over matters of ideology (usually irrevocably wired into their beliefs) might be of benefit to their younger folk, who, overhearing, might be given pause to think their elders and betters may be not so much so, and may not be as universally revered as once they thought.



    Report abuse

  • Whatever deserves to be criticized should be criticized. Evil needs to be called out, insanity must be pointed out and in the case of Religion all that is evil and all that is insane must be criticized and combated. As Religions seek to extend and embrace all parts of your life and my life those Religions are the enemy of rational thought and freedom much more than Communism ever was.

    It’s cry that it deserves special immunity from criticism under the guise of that criticism being ‘intolerant’ betrays a complete lack of understanding of what intolerance is. The religious rules in Islam that are written in many Islamic countries which provide for the death penalty for atheism and for criticism of Islam are by very definition examples of intolerance. Conversion by the Sword in Christianity, the burning of ‘witches’ and the hatred, ostracism and killing of gays in both religions are the very definition of intolerance. That they are now crying that criticism against them is ‘intolerant’ is just evidence that the apologists for religions at least in Western Civilization do not have the power to outright have us all killed for not being rigid adherents they demand us all to be.



    Report abuse

  • Melinda Feb 25, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    What is your intention in speaking?
    Is what you are about to say, and how you are about to say it, likely to accomplish that intention?
    Have you asked this person if they are interested in hearing anything that might be contrary to their current perspective?
    Have you asked them what is important to them about continuing to hold their belief?

    It is indeed important to know if you are talking one-to-one with person who will listen, or if you are talking to an irrational closed mind for the benefit of of a wider audience whoare watching or reading.

    If you can’t reassure a person those needs that are being met in holding their current belief will be met even more by hearing you, they will not listen – defence mechanisms will arise and you will be shut out- it’s how the brain works.

    Individuals can be persuaded, but on the internet debates, defeating ignorant assertions for the benefit of a wider audience can be more important than wasting time on a closed mind which was never going to listen anyway!



    Report abuse

  • Is it intolerant? Perhaps. However, we are in no way required to be tolerant of any mindset that views humans as damaged goods. For my own part, I’m intolerant of the ideas, not the people who hold them unless they use these ideas to subjugate or harm other people. At that point, I’m not just able but obligated to be intolerant of those ideas.

    Is it provocative? Clearly. But Frank Zappa said it best when he said he was glad to be outrageous to anyone who wanted to be outraged. There are people on both sides of the theism issue who are outraged over the smallest perceived slight.

    Whether intolerant and provocative or not, nobody should die because someone took offense at another’s ideas.



    Report abuse

  • Criticizing religion is not intolerant. People seem to mistake the word tolerate with the word support. Nothing I can say, no matter how harsh it is, will prevent you from still believing what you believe at the end of the day. Freedom of speech never imposes upon freedom of religion.

    People have every right to make ridiculous claims and others have every right to claim they’re ridiculous.



    Report abuse

  • Sense, at last….

    Toleration: the practice of deliberately allowing or permitting a thing of which one disapproves.

    This has become its historic meaning, as in the Act of Toleration 16?? er, whenever. Most atheists appear both to dissapprove of many aspects of religious practice, but fiercely support free speech and thus approve of the freedom to so practice.

    So, no. From the simple semantics of toleration and its etymology (it means in effect something you take on as a burden) it would not even be toleration of X unless you were critical of X.



    Report abuse

  • Intolerance applies to the persecution of people for things that they have no choice over, like gender, ethnicity, other physical attributes. Beliefs are a choice, and the criticism of choices is essential to validating or discrediting them. Choices that cannot withstand critical analysis have lost their credibility. People who argue that beliefs should be above criticism are actually proving that they are beneath consideration.



    Report abuse

  • Offering a critique, requested or otherwise, upon an individual’s opinions, beliefs or preferences has an impact upon said individual. The individual may be vulnerable to the stress inherent in the expressed conflicted issue. The individual may react to it from the extremes of complete indifference through returning criticism to termination of the source of the conflict to postpone, deflect or remove the stress. It’s what humans do. From the perspective of the individual being criticised, he feels abused. From the perspective of the critic, he feels at best that something needed to be or should be said in order to display wrongness for correction so that the universe appears more in-line with their own beliefs.
    The clear disparity in emotional weight in each side of the process means there’s a much greater chance for hostility from the the criticised individual, and while I think it’d be nice if everyone was able to talk to one another about anything, and not fail to tolerate hearing things they don’t like, it’s simply not possible 100% of the time with Joe/[Culturally-sensitive-stereotypical-name-of-your-ethnicity-here] Public. In this age-old problem, what should be and what is simply cannot meet in a Unified Theory of Getting Along as the parties are unequal. Hence, arguments about belief see-saw for generations.
    Questioning beliefs; intolerant or provocative? Yes, almost always. There’s no getting away from it. Is that a reason to stop trying? Nope. Not even close. If people gave up, it is just as bad as it sounds.



    Report abuse

  • I agree with the distinction that you’re making. ‘Provocative’ is an adjective that can be applied to nouns such as “criticism” but ‘intolerance’ cannot be. Adjectives like ‘intolerant’ can only really be applied to people – “intolerant ideas” really can’t practice intolerance! When atheists begin to forbid the practice of religion they become intolerant – whey they say that they want to forbid the practice of religion they are merely being provocative.



    Report abuse

  • I appreciate your comments Phil, but if I can intelligently refute arguments you may write on this site, that is acceptable to me. If I attack or mock you, that is completely unacceptable to me. If I can refute your ideas without completely mocking them (which would in turn mock you for believing them) that would be best. I want to speak my mind but also be cordial, as if we were in a pub somewhere discussing things.



    Report abuse

  • Too many people with guns think they’re Clint Eastwood. He wore his gun when he had previous encounters with them over the parking space, so he obviously felt a sense of power with the gun. I don’t know what other pathological things were going through his brain, but he obviously had more psychological problems than just religious bigotry to kill three people over a parking space. His comments on Facebook may have been symptoms of deeper issues.



    Report abuse

  • Doesn’t explain Turkey Alan. Sure, the turkish Kurds in the mountains used stoning as a form of threat but the cosmopolitan Turks in some cities haven’t got that problem. They have customs sure but not much fear of being killed for not praying five times a day.



    Report abuse

  • I agree that the intolerant are malnourished and need to be fed substantial and well-fortified ideas – ideas that provide vitality and life. So we need to examine each idea separately to see if it is nutritous or not.



    Report abuse

  • Olgun Feb 25, 2015 at 3:13 pm

    Doesn’t explain Turkey Alan. Sure, the turkish Kurds in the mountains used stoning as a form of threat but the cosmopolitan Turks in some cities haven’t got that problem. They have customs sure but not much fear of being killed for not praying five times a day.

    I was talking recently to a botanist friend of mine who has been doing field-work in Turkey, and he made the point about the contrast between the cities and the country areas, although his view was that the Turks are generally amiable people and a notable contrast to some Middle-Eastern States.



    Report abuse

  • Standard dictionary of the word intolerant: “disapproving of or refusing to accept ideas or ways of behaving that are different from your own:” . I won’t tolerate your belief that my argument is wrong. So I respond telling you so and criticising your understanding of the word. Plus, you dismissed my argument merely on the use and definition of one word but ignored the other parts in totality. Therefore, in a provocative way I respond that your counter statement is intolerable. At least to me.



    Report abuse

  • If someone makes a claim that a proposition is true, then surely it is legitimate to argue it is false. They opened the debate.

    To let the false pass as true, makes you complicit in selling the lie.

    Males tend to take it personally when you disagree with them. They imagine you have claimed they are worthless when all you did is point out one of the ideas they hold is false. It should be no more of an insult than correcting them when they give the wrong address of a store. You see a similar thing when a male feels hurt if he owns a Volvo and someone says something negative about Volvos. He extends his ego to all his possessions and beliefs.

    What is also going on is a dishonest technique for defending indefensible premises. Believers try to protect them by threatening or feigning deep hurt when someone questions them.



    Report abuse

  • I think that what is meant by ‘Tolerance’ and ‘Intolerance’ should be clarified.

    Courtrooms are tolerant of the truth and intolerant of lies: consumers are tolerant of a ‘good enough’ product, within their budget, even if it isn’the the 50 inch plasma screen they wanted, but are intolerant of a product, that fails to deliver a minimum standard.

    The lesson of the 20th century seems to have been that people, from different backgrounds, cultures, faiths, and holding differing political opinions, must not just be tolerated, but embraced.

    Ideas are something different entirely.

    It’s tempting to say that, we hold freedom of speech as a very high ideal: yet it has always been curtailed, slander or libel can be challenged in a court, describing a product inaccurately, or misleadingly in advertising, might also land someone in court. Freedom of speech is not the freedom to lie. Likewise: incitement to riot, does not represent, ‘freedom of speech’ Inciting racial hatred or hatred based on any intrinsic attribute of persons, has also become widely regarded as an unacceptable abuse of free expression.

    Ideas however must be open to challenge, and a ‘racist polemic’, we might regard as incitement, is somewhat different to someone expressing views about perceived differences between races. Or even the superiority of one race over another. Such an opinion however much we disagree with it must be available to criticise, it must be tolerated, in that sense. But the criticism must also be available.

    This must also hold true for ideas with a religious basis, there can be no special pleading on their behalf.

    As such we come to the position, that all people’s must be embraced, not just tolerated, no matter how unsavoury we imagine their ideas. The expression of all ideas, must be tolerated, within the bounds of acceptable expression, but also challenged.

    It seems problematic to me, that many ‘religious people’ seem to want a special privilege, to say and do things that we would consider unacceptable on any other basis, and that they are entitled to consider themselves persecuted, when expected to meet the same standards as anyone else.

    Argument against religion is remarkably egalitarian, it says, “all these superstitions are in error”. From what I have read and seen, atheists have been remarkably consistent in this, and recieving considerable criticism from the Christian right, who seem offended they are lumped together with Muslims.

    Yet, it is not atheists who are saying all Muslims agree with the extremists, it is those with Christian right sympathies, such as Fox News.

    There are always ‘nut jobs’ even atheist ones, so we want no: ‘no true scotsman’ arguments. The most atheistic and secular states in the world still have the best health and education systems, the lowest infant mortality and overall crime rates. Provided the anti religion argument focuses on why religion is an error, and treating all religions by the same criteria, the argument must be addressed on its merits, rather than as a ‘prejudice’ or an ‘incitement’.



    Report abuse

  • As i know it, atheists are not intolerant of the religious belief of others but intolerant of any actions that affect us. Just like in a company where HR will teach you as a manager that you cannot be intolerant of some aspect of a person’s character, only what its impact is on the job. We become animated when religious people try to modify scientific textbooks, force our children to say their prayers or demonstrate their beliefs, or change our laws to conform to their religious beliefs. If you engage in these activities then you are the intolerant one for forcing your beliefs on others. So believe what you want but keep it to yourself.



    Report abuse

  • Sam is right of course, as he usually is. I would keep the response to these critics even more curt. ‘Atheism is simply the lack of belief in a God. Atheists have no doctrine or dogma and do not promote any other agenda therefore it is irrational to attribute any aggression on the part of atheism. If a murderer happens to be an atheist then he did not get the idea from atheism by defiintion.’



    Report abuse

  • We have to make a specific distinction between how the term “criticism” is generally described, and the inherent values of the same term when used against belief sistems. Semantically speaking the term “criticism” will generate diferent inherent connotations when u talk about ideeas with empirical manifestations that can ultimately be tested (the criticism of science matters for example, will generate progress and clean out the “dump material”, in witch cases it is a MUST), but in contrast with criticism orientated agains belief sistems and ideas that CANT be manifested empiricaly. In this regard it is ONE thing to talk about criticism of applied science or politics (or ideeas of them), in which the inherent value of criticism is unequivocally positive orientated (it will allways generate progress of some sort), and quite ANOTHER thing to talk about the (even if we use the same term to describe it) criticism of belief (non applied matters), that will allways be a provocative act in itself. The act of belief is based on non-argumentative persuasion that cant be open to criticism so u can never get the same positive feedback as u would in a applicable matter, thus u will get a negative reaction … u provoque (and there is no other way arround it)
    As for beeing intolerant by its nature, this is just a subjective point of viewing things … u can generate quite an outstanding debate even if u talk about the “spaghetti monster”, as you would about an imaginative God.
    As i see it, the “intolerant” part is more individually directed, so u cant blame the act of criticism in itself, but some persons do it cause they see it like this … subjective approach (the logic value of this is null), but the “provocative” part will allways stand out as a objective inherent definition if u use criticism in matters of beliefs or non-falsifiable matters. (sorry for the gramar, i am a non-english dweller, and rushed it a bit 🙂



    Report abuse

  • Then I am sad you let me see the less of you. I fully understand those who wish to be reserved (it is a rather English trait) but for me rather too much is made of it. I am frankly sick of it, because it leads us to situations where taking offense and the feigning of it wins the day.

    I’ll repeat my mantra. I want my children to inherit a world that doesn’t take offense rather than a world that doesn’t give it. Nice (precise) answers are only half the information needed. I feel hugely informed by anger and hurt. Moral decision making depends on this stuff.

    My plea?

    Its not an imperative, “Offend!”

    It is, “Do not take offence, and sell this idea on.”



    Report abuse

  • Doran. Religion does not have a huge influence in government, at least not in the US. Money has a huge role with countless millions being spent. When we have bad ideas in government (whether religiously motivated or not) of course we can attack them, but like politicians, if we abandon civilized discourse, we will shout past each other without ever hearing each other.



    Report abuse

  • ufischer. So there is no standard of conduct and expression then? No crossing of lines? Opinion of victims do not count, ever, even the highly rational ones? It is condescending of you (and others) who say you are doing a religious person a favor by attacking them. We of faith, of course, could say the same of you (we need to save you from hell after all; you’re just saving us from a few decades of delusion). I and many Christians I know would die for our faith. We are not numb of mind. We have a vibrate, purposeful faith based on much evidence that we deem more than sufficient. Your characterization of all people of faith as ignorant and blind is not only typical of the close mindedness expressed on this site, but it is offensive to me as a human being with the right to believe whatever I want to. My faith harms no one, and if you believe in democratic ideals and rights, then I deserve your respect as much as Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins.



    Report abuse

  • Its not the shouting thats the problem. Its the shouting back or shouting the same thing to the same person.

    if we abandon civilized discourse,

    Not taking offense is the more civilised position (and will be seen as such) than playing the Miss Manners card.



    Report abuse

  • Phil,

    I really am having trouble getting I to your version here. We can say that religion has a problem. We can give the evidence from a scientific point of view. Why do we need to push any more buttons? Is it just impatience? The west has put a limit on what the pope can do when insulted. Great. It is a different scenario for the Middle East so why is that left out of the equation?



    Report abuse

  • Isn’t the end result the same? If you were to right the program for the very first automaton that inhabited our everyday lives and you put the instruction to not take offence then would it not be pointless to give offence? Why not take the less offensive route?



    Report abuse

  • The OP is related to issues in the USA. What is the Middle East thing? My concern is for shielding individuals from the services of the state in the UK, for instance. I can’t think of an instance where I would criticise a group of Muslims in the Middle East were they not oppressing other Muslims.

    Its about time this thing stopped being theoretical and someone put up some explicit examples of unacceptable speech.



    Report abuse

  • No! Its about understanding strengths of fucking feeling!

    Besides we all have our lapses.

    To solve the problem of the naturally libidinous male we could get all females to wear totaly concealing clothing, then men would never be taxed by an inciting ankle.

    Or we could create a culture that requires men to take full responsibility for their responses (whatever they feel) and work towards safety for women that grants them full freedom of expression.



    Report abuse

  • 59
    Sebastian says:

    No, it is not inherently intolerant or provocative to criticise anybody’s beliefs, not at all. In some (perhaps ‘several’ or even allegedly ‘many’) instances, those who are criticising may be classed as such, but that’s related to each individual case and whether said attitude was deliberate or indirect (often a simple case of some people not being tactful enough and/or some people being too touchy about certain subjects).

    The immediate association of atheism with hate crimes and intolerance (and it’s not the first time that happens) has, in my opinion, more to do with some people running out of arguments to support their claims and taking the shortcut of vilifying those who disagree with them. It’s barely one step up from the usual bickering you see on on-line communities or YouTube comments sections: A gets upset because B disagrees, so A accuses B of whichever social, sexual, ethnic, national or ideological stereotype.

    While there are people whose lives revolve around their religious beliefs (or lack thereof), the truth is it doesn’t apply to everybody. There’s a whole spectrum of what might have caused the perpetrator to commit a crime and how that might relate, if at all, to their creed (or, again, lack thereof). To automatically assume it happened because the killer was atheist and the victims were Muslims is as risky as to think it was because, say, they had a different hair colour, worked on a different sector or supported a different sports team. What do I know? Maybe that individual event did have some connexion to faith, maybe it didn’t, but either way, that doesn’t justify building up a sweeping generalisation.

    Some people (again, perhaps ‘several’ or even ‘many’ in some cases) might be intolerant or provocative, but it doesn’t mean the different group(s) they can be arbitrarily placed in (e.g., atheists, architects, vegetarians, people who dress in jeans) are inherently intolerant or provocative. If we’re going to randomly assign direct links between what the perpetrator was and what the victims were, we could be asking tons of questions: was the perpetrator fat and were the victims skinny? If so, was it a hate crime? Was the killer team Jacob and were the victims team Edward? Was the killer born in April and the victims weren’t? Worse yet: did one of the victims have a middle name starting with the same letter that was in fourth position of the perpetrator’s mother’s maiden name spelt backwards? If you look hard enough, you can find any grounds for any speculation, no matter how preposterous.

    Even in the hypothetical case the murder did happen because the killer was atheist and the victims were Muslims, it’s completely irrelevant to what the other millions of atheist might have done in the same circumstances. It’s utterly awful that those people were killed to begin with and that’s to be condemned. It still has no bearing on the perpetrator’s ideology, not more than it has on their shoe size, marital status, favourite colour or the breed of their dog (or the fact, for all we know, maybe they had no dog but the victims did … is it connected?).



    Report abuse

  • 60
    Lorenzo says:

    Not being American, I had quite a hard time finding information (I mean: at all) on the event. Up until this comment, in fact, I just avoided the topic for lack of material.
    From where I’m sitting, it seems that it all started as a fight over a parking place, and the hate crime phantom was evoked by a relative of some degree, while the police is still giving more credit to the parking place controversy.

    I would like to ask: how many times happens, in the USA, that a youth enters a school or a university campus armed to the teeth and opens fire? Many. A lot more than it ought to. And yet, the necessity of blaming the massacre on the faith of the shooter is never felt -and rightly so: not all the blood is shed in the name of some deity. Sometimes, it’s pure madness. Madness that may have a gazillion reasons behind it, but religion may just not be one of them.

    We don’t speak of a religious murder if a member of the clergy, driving away from his congregation, hits and kill a whole family that was crossing the road. It’s an accident and the faith of the driver is very irrelevant -even if the clergy member drove over that family while texting someone “God is great!”: the problem was that texting while at the wheel is a stupidly dangerous idea, not the content of the text itself.

    The same seems to apply to this happening: the massacre doesn’t appear to be motivated by religion -or lack of it. The shooter may have been a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim and he would have still killed those three people. Likewise, those three poor lads may have been even more convinced in their refusal of religion than the killer and, still, they would have been shot because of a parking place.

    I think there’s no evidence whatsoever that points toward an involvement of religion, or lack of it, in the perpetration of deed. To bring it in, forcefully, is inexcusable; it blows on an fire that burns already way, way too hot: it promotes, implicitly, sectarianism. We don’t need that.
    Furthermore, making propaganda for one’s own agenda on the corpses of those three students is distasteful beyond words.

    [the shooting] rises the question of whether criticizing the religious beliefs of others is an inherently intolerant or provocative act.

    Some apologists would have you think that it is so, but isn’t.

    Provocation, like offense, is in the eye of the beholder. As an adult human being, you are expected to control your emotions and your frustration -and, if necessary, forfeit the discussion if you run out of arguments and you can’t accept the opposer’s point of view. What I say may be deliberately irritating for a believer -even hurtful at times- but it’s up to my counterpart to decide what do to and how to react to what I say. If the decision is taken to act upon the frustration by striking me, the blame –all of it!- is on who became violent.
    The ability to control and decide over one’s own emotions is, I think, a necessary condition to enjoy true freedom of speech -and a fruitful conversation.

    Is criticizing religion intolerant? No. I never heard a single atheist or humanist or rationalist say that an entire group of people should be discriminated against in any possible way because of their religion. I think we atheists will never stop criticizing, challenging and, yes, at times annoying the believers but I think we will also always be the first to recognize the believers’ right to worship and hold their beliefs as passionately as they see fit, in a strictly non-violent manner.
    If you hold reason as valuable, you cannot disregard coherence. And a honest, coherent critique of religion cannot allow ourselves ending up doing the exact same thing we despise in religions: the segregation of humanity in sects and discriminating among them.

    Whoever fights monsters should see to it that he does not become a monster.
    -Friedrich Nietzsche.

    That said, though, I absolutely agree with Harris when he says that we shall not give up the fight, that we should continue criticizing, and vehemently so, the evil woven into religions -even if horrible crimes have been committed against followers of that religion.
    There’s an emblematic passage in Harris’ podcast, when he lets us listen to what happened in the bar in Denmark. You hear a woman speaking:

    I realize that every time we talk about… activities of those people, they will be always “yes, it is freedom of speech, but“. And the turning point is but. Why do we still say but when we…

    And the shooting begins.
    If you ever wonder what it looks like to live in a society where freedom of speech is absent, that is an excellent example. The fragment is emblematic because the killer opens fire almost exactly on “the turning point”… as if it was some sort of evil evoked, “the turning point” materializes and leaves bodies on the floor.
    We must see to it, with all our voices and the strength of our arguments, that the world keeps going beyond “that turning point” and that freedom of speech and opinion becomes more and more widespread. If this means upsetting some religious literalists, fundamentalists and fanatics: so be it.



    Report abuse

  • I’m afraid that the question of any criticism of religion being an act of intolerance is just as badly formed as most of the arguments theists use… as indeed, they must be. It seeks to first equate the actual intolerance that a significant percentage of theists heap on all others who don’t share their very narrow set of beliefs, including non-believers. It dishonestly assumes that this proves some equivalence, which in the end is the game that all such apologists attempt to play, using a smorgasbord specious dishonesties.

    I know of very few atheists who would openly advocate for a true act of intolerance, such as denying the rights for christians to marry based on their demonstrable delusions, mental illness, rendering them incapable of understanding all the ramifications of signing a marriage license. Theists in general, and apologists in particular, love to forget that the vast majority of criticisms leveled by all parties against religions, are related to the iniquities, inequalities, and just plain histories that are undeniably attributed directly to them, or to large numbers of followers who act in accord with defensible interpretations of them. Of course, that is not to say, that if a few of these filthy ideologies were to die a richly deserved natural death, that atheists, and humanity as a whole, would share a collective sigh of relief.

    Their need for equivalence is as inapt as their insistence that any issue they choose, from morality to astrophysics, is rightly the purview of their religion. And… It is just a meaningless intellectually, as it is meaningful by the equally tragic fact that so many of them are trained to believe it no matter what the evidence for or against.

    As I see it, the only valid argument/conclusion that may be drawn in this instance, is that it is still invalid to condemn any group of people based solely on the actions of one or two. As much as so many of the commentators, bloggers, and columnists would like to ignore that fact, in order to draw causation you need to look for behaviors that may be related to the causes being criticized, and identify a pattern that is more widespread than a single isolated incident. The genocide being daily committed by ISIS against all non-believers, as related to and dictated by the canon of Islamic texts, vs one very sad and sorry incident for which, to my knowledge, no one has made any reasonable case for tying together with any criticism of religious belief. Such isolated incidents may only be attributed to the individual, whenever there is a lack of evidence for any other connection.

    No. Criticising bigotry is not bigoted. Criticising an idea is not racist. Criticizing unreasonable claims is not unreasonable. Limiting the rights of free speech, which you should make no mistake in thinking that this is not exactly what all such critics as the Counsel for American Islamic relations are working for, is not a guarantor of greater religious or ideological freedom. We simply live in an unfortunate time when the simple majority of said morons seem to believe it. 



    Report abuse

  • Olgun Feb 25, 2015 at 5:03 pm

    What did you do with dishonest students in your schools Alan? Is there a science on how not to escalate the situation?

    That would depend on the nature and extent of dishonesty.

    If it was simply irrationality or trivial lying, a verbal exposure and mild rebuke would probably suffice. If the matter was more serious, (such as cheating in external exams) there were various disciplinary procedures.



    Report abuse

  • Let’s list some “impossible to prove” unreasonable beliefs: the mind’s eye (no one can prove it), my dreams last night (no one but me knows them), the origin of the Big Bang (we’ve not got a clue). The list could go on, but you get the point.



    Report abuse

  • I agree, Ric. But like the argument for pornography, I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I see it. The same goes for intolerant, mocking, disrespectful discourse.



    Report abuse

  • Your last paragraph is mixing up several different centuries. Let’s stick to the 21st, shall we? I also don’t see billions of people of faith “crying out that criticism is intolerance.” Most of us just ignore you. You just manage to stir up the most fanatical (much like the guy in question on this thread)



    Report abuse

  • The answer to that question is that we personally object to people in our own group who are being intolerant. It starts with us cleaning up our own. We also support every legal venue to stop intolerance against anyone for any reason.



    Report abuse

  • “Yet, it is not atheists who are saying all Muslims agree with the extremists, it is those with Christian right sympathies, such as Fox News.”

    Dawkins comes mighty close to saying this on a regular basis.



    Report abuse

  • This is simply not true. Your dogma is stated on this site all the time. Religion poisons everything. Religion is the cause of all evil. The religious are lunatics. Please be honest with yourselves. You have dogma and an agenda. Why do you think this site exists? When the rhetoric goes too far, you will have atheists murdering in the name of atheism. This is human nature.



    Report abuse

  • By definition, intolerance is synonymous with bigotry. Nobody matches this definition better than the religious people, themselves. Criticizing them for being misguided is not intolerance, it’s an attempt to open their minds, in order to create less overall intolerance in the world. In essence, we are trying to legitimately make the world a better place, where people are held accountable to their choices and actions, as well as how those things effect the people around them. Are there intolerant atheists? I’m sure, but the act of criticizing something is not inherently intolerance.



    Report abuse

  • This is more like it, Nordic. Un-buttoned. Would-be murderers in the name of our “dogma”.

    “Religion poisons everything”

    I’d like to know an aspect of civil society that religion hasn’t poked its nose into. As atheists we would feel this is interference quite without warrant. (Not dogma. A fact plus the fact of atheism.)

    “Religion is the cause of all evil”? What, all? Just one atheist on this site who has said this…find me just one. And you and I will shame him for his folly. (Not dogma. Made up nonsense.)

    “The religious are lunatics”? All? Really? A few are though. Human nature… (Not dogma. Most think a few are quite bonkers. But mostly not.)

    When those murder stats come in. Let us know about the comparative rates.

    I am pleased to know what you really think.



    Report abuse

  • 79
    William says:

    If a criticism of a religious belief is forbidden, then this would also prohibit proselytizing, because merely showing that the other religion is wrong for the purpose of proselytizing would fall under this definition. Therefore it is in the best interest of any religion that condones proselytizing to oppose to this.



    Report abuse

  • There are remarks that criticism of Islam leads to violence against Muslims. This can be true if the rhetoric is inflammatory enough. However, not all criticism leads to violence. There are some who say that criticism of Islam is racism. Islam is not a race. The Arabic people are a race. Not all Arabs are Muslims, and not all Muslims are Arabs. Islam is a religion. It is a set of ideas and ideals. It has a holy book and a mythology. It is not limited to the Arabic ethnicity. Therefore criticisms of Islam, as a religion are NOT necessarily racist remarks on Arabs. Nor is criticism of Islam necessarily a claim that all Muslims are bad terrorists out to blow us up. That is incorrect. Most Muslims that I have met are rather moderate and chill people. You do not have to engage in Islamophobia in order to criticize Islam.

    Criticism of Islam as a set of ideas, as a religion that could be used to label evil actions like murder as good and righteous, as a religion whose mythology makes false claims about physical reality like Mohammed splitting the moon in half, is perfectly acceptable. Negative commentary on Islam should not be taken as a call to violence against all Muslims or negative commentary on Arabic people, it should be taken as negative commentary on Islam. Nor should negative commentary on Islam be taken to mean that all Muslims are evil criminal people, or that all Muslims are the same. Some denominations are even more liberal and humanitarian, as a denomination, than others. I myself prefer the Sufi denomination of Islam in the same way that I prefer the Episcopalian denomination of Christianity. I think that if most Muslims and Christians were Sufis and Episcopalians respectively then the secular community would have less to complain about (less does not mean nothing).

    However, as a religion, as a set of ideas, I think that Islam, like Christianity, is wrong. That on a fundamental level there is something wrong about it on a factual, and in many cases, moral basis. I think that the fact that the god of these religions is a humanoid god with human ways of thinking, human emotions, and human attitudes towards cultural norms and taboos that are specific to the culture or cultures of the people worshiping said god, is one of the strongest pieces of evidence that such a god is the product of human imagination and not an actual being that actually exists external to us.

    I think to criticize this idea of a humanoid god, and to criticize the very ideas of supernaturalism and superstition, is perfectly acceptable. I matters not whether the worship of such a god takes the form of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Wicca, or any other religion. These ideas and their holy books should not be held sacred or be protected from scrutiny. We should not give in to the psychological manipulation tactics designed to quell criticism of Islam such as complaints of racism and inciting people to violence, nor should we engage in racism or violent behavior and/or rhetoric. We should answer these complains with calm reason, and we should make a point of identifying and exposing to the public the rhetoric used by religious leaders to dishonestly manipulate the thoughts and actions of the public.



    Report abuse

  • Let us say I tolerated your belief in a flat earth. I have to lie. I must pretend that flat earth is a plausible, reasonable alternative, one I might easily have chosen myself. I have to pretend that I think there are sane people who hold that view.

    Much of being polite, in general, is about lying and hiding negative assessments.

    Perhaps I could tolerate your view simply by stating mine, giving my evidence, then letting the matter drop. You have a right to be wrong. That could be how tolerance in defined.



    Report abuse

  • Let us say I tolerated your belief in a flat earth. I have to lie. I must pretend that flat earth is a plausible, reasonable alternative, one I might easily have chosen myself. I have to pretend that I think there are sane people who hold that view.

    Much of being polite, in general, is about lying and hiding negative assessments.

    Perhaps I could tolerate your view simply by stating mine, giving my evidence, then letting the matter drop. You have a right to be wrong. That could be how tolerance in defined.



    Report abuse

  • “Mock Them’. Why might you decide to be deliberately rude? Because the religious imagine that everyone thinks highly of them and their ideas. They desperately need to be disabused. Christians do not respond to logic. They respond to peer pressure. By mocking, you are applying peer pressure. They choose beliefs based on what makes them feel most comfortable. You are making their erroneous beliefs uncomfortable.



    Report abuse

  • If a psychiatrist met a deluded person at a dinner party, in what way are they obligated to “respect” the delusions of people who come up to talk to him and try to persuade them of their delusions?

    I don’t think shrinks are obligated to pretend to believe the delusions, or to pretend they are plausible, though they might do that. (I “cured” a man who though he was Atlas that way, by offering to carry the world for him.)

    It seem to me, the obligation is the same as to respect the delusions of a Christian or Muslim who tries to sell you their religion.



    Report abuse

  • What are the rude things Christians complain of? It is not calling them a filthy toad. It is asking them questions that stump them. It is pointing out inconsistency in their statements. It it embarrassing them with how silly their delusions are. It means asking them how they know some assertion. “Polite” means no tough questions.



    Report abuse

  • Christians routinely threaten me with eternal torture. They have also threatened to kill me thousands of times (I am gay) I don’t really see why these people rate the kid glove treatment. There is the practical matter of what works best, but they do not deserve respect any more than other deluded people or criminals do.



    Report abuse

  • Any belief that is held uncritically and serves as the catalyst for paradigm formation poses a threat to humanity. A sound mind should reverberate with the outcomes, lasting and immediate, of all scenarios, regardless of emotive quality, and the awareness of personal motives that initiate and select for outcomes. If an individual holds a desire to kill other people as a solution to an emotive problem, be it fulfillment of blood/power lust, quelling of angst/irritation, etc., sanity, and the unbiased processes of reason and logic are not in bloom, rather, a perverse, parasitic complexity of basal, biological motivators entangled with egoistic survival. For mankind to appreciate sanity it must first cure its mental illness by purging illogical thought processes, beliefs and opinions that construct the corrupt operating system of our collective humanity.

    How can we ensure sanity is humanity’s highest ideal?



    Report abuse

  • They don’t rate the kid glove treatment but are we using the right weapon?

    In the United States, 63 percent of the public believed in God and 35
    percent believed in evolution. In Great Britain, by comparison, 24
    percent of people believed in God and 77 percent believed in
    evolution. You can believe in both—but not many people do.

    http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/the_big_idea/2005/08/evolution_vs_religion.html

    Darwin has provided us with with the ultimate. do we need to ‘wave our private parts at their aunties’? (Monty Python; Holy Gail)



    Report abuse

  • 92
    Steffan says:

    To criticize something is not to be intolerant nor provocative. People frequently believe that is the case when the criticism is in reference to religion, but why does it get to be a special case? Criticism and debate are not frowned upon in the US, in fact much of our political system revolves around it. In a presidential debate, for example, the opposing candidates might firmly disagree on a topic such as climate change. Each candidate isn’t considered intolerant or provocative of the other based on throwing facts and opinions around, they are merely seen as contrarian in their stance. Why is it that we must put religion on a pedestal and separate it from every other topic of debate? I propose that there is indeed no need to glorify (hah) this issue over others. To criticize another’s religion is to state your opinion that his/her belief is wrong. One can state this opinion without oppressing or provoking another. It is quite easy to state that your stance is in opposition while at the same time accepting that your opponent has every right to believe in and state their own view. For example, in a debate regarding healthcare, you might argue and never compromise, but you’d come to the conclusion that you are simply of different minds in the matter. However, for some reason, questioning someone’s god is often instantly considered strident and malicious. It simply makes no sense that we would grant a special case for religion when all other debate is safe and healthy.

    To be intolerant or provocative would require a more active pursuit of the destruction of the other’s belief. Mere criticism, which is pointing out holes in an argument, belief, action, etc., does not force anyone to do anything other than further consider their own position. Are we not allowed to ask people to question and strengthen their own opinions? I say that such a restriction would be ludicrous. It is illogical that any world-view or belief should be immune to questioning, as that immunity can easily lead to full control. Criticism is a fair and necessary tool for promoting well-thought out arguments and beliefs, and if someone is offended, that is simply too bad. Criticism isn’t preventing them from stating their opinion or showing intolerance for their beliefs, it is asking them to elaborate so that all involved can come to a better understanding of a concept. If we aren’t allowed to question or criticize everything freely, we can never come to a conclusion based on a full refinement of views and beliefs, and in the end we allow some force to dictate an idea without fear of retribution, which is a dangerous power for any group to hold – religious or otherwise.



    Report abuse

  • This is simply not true. Your dogma is stated on this site all the
    time. Religion poisons everything. Religion is the cause of all evil.
    The religious are lunatics. Please be honest with yourselves. You have
    dogma and an agenda. Why do you think this site exists? When the
    rhetoric goes too far, you will have atheists murdering in the name of
    atheism. This is human nature.

    That is not atheist dogma, those are the opinions of some people that happen to be atheist. Huge difference if your conflating religious dogma with atheist opinion.

    Or, to put it another way, one does not have to see religion as evil to be an atheist. You don’t even have to think that to post on this site.

    Dogma is definitely the wrong word here as well. Atheism has no set doctrine, no set agenda and is only defined as a lack of religious faith. Many atheist have negative opinions about religion, but that does not redefine the word. Humanists, Freethinker and Secularists… are very likely atheists and many might share some of these views but having them doesn’t redefine atheism.

    As far as the rhetoric going too far, you can’t always get atheists on this site to agree enough to take a course of action, much less going on genocidal rages. That generally takes embracing ignorance and blindly following others. And where have we seen more of that than anywhere else?

    Your attempts to conflate atheism with religion fail because there is no dogma. Many atheists here agree on some things but not others, but many others will disagree far more. There is no dogma.

    I think the blind followers of faith are inherently dangerous, but that doesn’t mean I think all religious people are lunatics. The site exists for reasonable, evidence based discussion as far as I’ve ascertained from my years on it. Followers of blind faith have a hard time with evidence based positions often because they never needed evidence to be convinced of their positions to start with. So it’s no surprise that seeing eye to eye with them is so very difficult.

    But contrary to your opinion, it doesn’t make both sides equally dogmatic.



    Report abuse

  • In the past atheists have kept quiet about their stance on religion. This is where the idea of the polite atheist comes from. In the modern era the atheist actually “puts it out there” where he stands in regard to religion and indeed, faith in general. As soon as they do this they are seen as being aggressive towards theists; just because the cosey world of the theist is being questioned, not being attacked outright. Due to the theist having to think about his\her own claims they feel under attack. Hence the theist posing the question, if you don’t believe in god why do you spend so much time thinking about him\her?
    If it is the idea that is being questioned then there is no harm; it’s only when it becomes a personal attack due to race (Muslim is not a race) that an issue arises.
    The privilege of religion being above questioning needs to be addressed more than ever. On the internet it has become aggressive, due to meme’s mainly which bluntly put over atheistic ideas. However when you consider what happened to non believers, a picture cannot be seen as too offensive. That leads us to Charlie Hebdo and what went on there; even back in the day with the Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. If you believe in it and hold it dear, then I can see how you can take offence but the lengths some people have gone to is never justifiable. We have terms such as Islamaphobia to stop us even questioning a religion. All 3 Abrahmic faiths are very questionable, if the believer feels a fronted by someone questioning it, how strong is their faith and conviction in it?



    Report abuse

  • “Criticizing the religious beliefs of others is NOT an inherently intolerant or provocative act” for the following reasons
    • I think ‘a belief’ is a set of statements which are declared by a believer to be true.
    • I am tolerant of that belief until the actions of the believer, based on that belief, affect my freedoms, and I then feel free to enquire why the actions to which I object are justified.
    • I accept that others can draw different conclusions from mine from the same ‘evidence’ but that does not mean they are wrong, as all empiricists accept.
    • I do think that gratuitous criticism of someone else’s ideas MIGHT be considered provocative.



    Report abuse

  • Ideologies can be criticised. Besides within a sentence or so of “Islam is one of the great evils”, he details the essence of his complaint-

    ” There are people in the Islamic world who simply say, ‘Islam is right, and we are going to impose our will.’” This does not comport with your claim.

    I believe the Roman Catholic Church to be one of the great evils in the world. I also say, within a sentence or two that, that I believe the great majority of Catholics to be more moral than their church.

    Do you have any more recent examples, say within a year or so?



    Report abuse

  • Why do you have to lie? According the a standard definition tolerate means, “allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one dislikes or disagrees with (my italics)) without interference”. It says nothing about lying, you do not have to pretend to agree with it. That is a false assertion. To not tolerate it (or be intolerant of it) therefore is the opposite of the above. The question as posed above clearly uses the word in this context. So if I choose to tolerate Christian or Muslim beliefs that impinge upon me in some way, I ignore them or let them go unopposed. If I choose not to tolerate them I do the opposite, I criticise their beliefs, i.e. I show my disapproval by indicating the faults or inconsistencies in those beliefs. Remember we are talking about beliefs that have some impact on me or things I am concerned with. This is how I understand the Q of the week to be framed.
    Re your last paragraph; by stating your view and giving evidence you are quite deliberately arguing with the other person, in the correct sense of the word argument. If I were to say that I always tolerate a friend’s bad behaviour I assume you would take that as meaning that I don’t do or say anything to counter it or show disapproval of it. If I stop and say to him, ‘In my view that’s bad or wrong and here is my evidence for that view” that is showing him that I will not tolerate his behaviour, i.e. I am intolerant. It’s not a matter of how it could be defined, it’s a matter of how it is defined.



    Report abuse

  • Peter Feb 26, 2015 at 7:41 am

    “Criticizing the religious beliefs of others is NOT an inherently intolerant or provocative act” for the following reasons

    The “taking offence” is usually specific to “my beliefs” or some religious pseudo-alliance of belief for mutual reassurance against atheists.

    Most religions and believers, simply dismiss other religious beliefs without a second thought, OR looking through the rosy glow of self-delusion faith-blinkers, assume other gods and religions, are a slightly mistaken variant view of THEIR own god, which is basically compatible with their own dogmas!

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2015/02/dont-force-your-religious-opinions-on-your-children/#li-comment-170400



    Report abuse

  • Phil. please! The rationalizations on this site are never ending. Dawkins calls a belief, that a billion hold dear, evil. Ask them what they think he means. They’ll tell you he thinks they are evil and in cohorts with Islamic terrorists.

    Honestly, I think this is one of the huge practical problems of militant atheism (not that I want you to fix it, of course, because I don’t want you to succeed). You endlessly rationalize everything so that atheism and atheists are always right and religions and people of faith are always wrong. It reminds me of middle school students (ages 11-14 who I’ve taught for 30 years). This “we’re right because we’re smarter” attitude or “we’re right because the rest of you believe in fantasies” cannot help your recruitment efforts. It has certainly hurt Dawkins’ reputation.



    Report abuse

  • No. Criticizing the religious beliefs of others is not an inherently intolerant or provocative act. In criticizing the beliefs of another, one brain is interacting with at least one other brain or a group of brains. The interaction is complex and is as varied as the brains (read different physiology, education, experience etc.) involved in the interaction. The interaction begins with the motivation of the one choosing to speak up. Ones motivation does not have to be provocative. The motivation can simply be “I have thoughts on this also and, because you chose to share, I wish to share my thoughts.” One can express a critical view of a religious belief while minimizing an adverse reaction of an audience just by taking ownership of the criticism. “This is how I see it”. In this way one is just expressing his ideas on the subject and not provoking. A recipient may evaluate this as provocative (because he may feel dissonance), but that is coming from their brain and just part of the environment in which you are interacting. Note, also, by just sharing an idea, as one sees it, one is not being intolerant. One is merely expressing a different idea.



    Report abuse

  • You endlessly rationalize everything so that atheism and atheists are always right and religions and people of faith are always wrong.

    What can I say? I think we genuinely try to get things right.

    Myself I champion here what I see are examples of good (moral!) religious practise and those seeking to move towards better practise. I blame no-one for the circumstances they find themselves in. I blame no-one for wishing just to keep their head down and concentrate on their family and their career. More to the point I believe the religious are not bound by the nominal dogmas of their faith but that

    A religion as lived is what its adherents believe it to be.

    The most evil part of the faith game is the access it gives to exploiters to direct the thinking of the less thoughtful.

    To do this I daily struggle with atheist friends who take your side that criticising an ideology is somehow criticising its nominal adherents (this despite their huge [moral!] variety). But I think I am doing the right thing to get people to question their faith, to take it out of the hands of others and take proper moral charge of their lives.



    Report abuse

  • Nordic11 Feb 25, 2015 at 7:49 pm

    Let’s list some “impossible to prove” unreasonable beliefs: the mind’s eye (no one can prove it), my dreams last night (no one but me knows them), the origin of the Big Bang (we’ve not got a clue). The list could go on, but you get the point.

    I am prepared to say I don’t know your dreams or the origins of the Big-Bang, (although I can link some verified details of the later stages of it).
    Surely the point is that of making definitive claims about the unknown, where the onus of proof is on those making positive claims.



    Report abuse

  • I believe we are in a period of societal maturation where we are transitioning from majority-religious to majority-nonreligious. The reactionary, tribal mentality is to be expected. Complaints about insensitivity to religious views seems to be a normal reaction from those who have luxuriated in the deference religion has enjoyed for so long. Like walking barefoot on gravel, believers need to toughen up and confront the real world. Rational discussion and inquiry is the way forward. Stay the course.



    Report abuse

  • First of all to be tolerant of a belief means to respect that belief, and this is not the same when it is held for beliefs that are religious vs. those that are scientific. I can respect the human rights of a person who holds a wrong belief such as a religion, but should not be obligated to respect their belief or be tolerant of the belief system. I believe that believing in religion is wrong and I also believe that murder is wrong. I mean murder in any form. Religions however have always tried to justify suffering and murder by adding a good cause such as defending their prophet, their god … No one out there could ever convince me that teaching hatred is justified and that is under any banner. Criticism of religion should go on, and Sam Harris is one of the people who does a great job at this. I have mentioned this several times now. Many atrocities haven been committed by Muslims in the name of their religion, and as humanists we have gone out of our way to try and distinguish between extremists and moderates. We say that many of the Muslims want to live in peace and it is only a few that are cause of all the problems, even though we see increase in violence by even a minority of Muslims in various communities around the world. How is it fair to persecute the entire atheist movement because of actions of one?



    Report abuse

  • Hello everyone. There are people for whom All the Earth shall be an “insult”. I always feel sorry for such people, as their birth was clearly offended by the mind. We, in Russia, there are also atheists, but we still don’t kill anyone. Personally, I think that it is not rational. And if you kill and leave no trace in any country, not only in Russia you will not find. We as in other countries of faith onto since childhood. Are militant atheist. Began to feel his aversion to religion ( Christianity) with 17 years. We apparently take the law in our country soon atheists will be outside the law and they will start an open hunt. The laws “On the protection of religious feelings” is only in Africa and the us. And it is very sad. If an atheist kills representatives of other religions then it’s fine. Well have killed Muslims and now what? The earth stood still? Although it is better not to intervene because these “believers” themselves will interrupt and normal people with their fights are good fun.



    Report abuse

  • The only way I think that the Radical Islamic beliefs of the victims might have contibuted to their end is if they acted in the cocky, you-are-telling-us-because-we-are-Muslims, no-Kafir-is-going-to-tell-us-what-to-do and we-are-going-to-take-over-the-world attitude which drove the guy to murder after repeated warnings.



    Report abuse

  • The Sam Harris video plopped into my in box a while back, and as usual he puts forward a coherent and persuasive argument.

    If done courteously and with due sensitivity it is most emphatically not intolerant to criticise someone’s beliefs, it is in fact desirable, indeed, in some circumstances imperative; how else could progress be made?

    Of course an argument ad hominem should never be used because it weakens the questioner, but criticism of ideas is healthy; it can cause the holder of the beliefs being criticised to re-examine their convictions, it can enlighten the questioner, and therefore be mutually beneficial.

    But, this QOTW is about criticising religious beliefs and that’s another matter entirely to questioning rational ideas.

    Perhaps the principal attraction of religions is that they cannot be falsified or verified; how comforting that must be for their adherents!

    So it is next to impossible to criticise a religious individual’s beliefs without them taking extreme umbrage.

    Whereas in the real world, especially in the sciences, every idea is vulnerable to challenge.

    Which leads me to conclude that the answer to the question is that it’s not intolerant to criticise religious beliefs, but that it’s almost invariably interpreted as being such by the religious individual, despite every effort being made to avoid making it personal; the solution it seems to me lies in their hands.

    Meanwhile, and it looks as if it’s going to be a very long meanwhile, the criticism must continue; that’s the only way we’re going to get this monkey off of our backs.

    Here endeth my rant for the day.



    Report abuse

  • I’m not sure that it’s always realised just how hurtful criticism of one’s religious beliefs can be, hurtful because these can be deeply personal and emotionally intimate matters. It has similarities to criticism of one’s much loved partner, or children, or parents. It can go to the very heart of one’s identity.

    However, for that very reason I think it’s vital that such criticism exists; because when one is involved in close and loving relationships, it can be hard to see things in perspective. The attitude of “My country right or wrong; my mother drunk or sober” is all too easy to fall into.

    For myself, I’m all too aware that the appalling child sex abuse scandals which have dogged my own Catholic Church didn’t come to light through the work of the Church – on the contrary, it did everything it could to keep the scandals hidden. Rather, they were revealed through sustained and courageous criticism from outside.

    So criticism of religious beliefs does hurt, sometimes deeply. But keep it coming.



    Report abuse

  • So criticism of religious beliefs does hurt, sometimes deeply. But keep it coming.

    Sometimes parents are abusive. Sometimes they don’t let you own your own life, or let you grow up and become the moral agents you should be.

    I’ve always said that Catholics are better than their church.



    Report abuse

  • “Tolerance”, “provocative” ? Well the Pope certainly showed his real colours recently in semi-justifying the Charlie Hebdo massacre, by stating that anyone who insulted his mother (RCC), could expect a punch. Not much tolerance there of opposing views eh ? Oh for the good old days of the trial by fire !



    Report abuse

  • 116
    mshields says:

    This question is entirely academic. Atheisism only defines what we don’t believe. The door is open to what we do believe, so long as it doesn’t involve imaginary friends. You can’t blame that which people don’t believe for anything. Conversely, we rightly criticize Islam, for example, because it requires – literally requires – that you kill people who were brought up in the faith but then changed their minds. Show me where the non-existent doctrine of Atheism directs anybody to do any such thing, and then we can talk.



    Report abuse

  • 117
    mshields says:

    The pope truly revealed himself that day. There was lip service only paid to not being violent. The thrust of his comment, to your point, was to blame the cartoonist. Shameful!



    Report abuse

  • By definition it must be neither. You can criticize something that is still tolerable seeking to express your opinion, therefore the criticism is not intolerant while you may be. Criticism can be used to express intolerance and can certainly be used to provoke any number of feelings. But it is not provocative in and of itself.



    Report abuse

  • The slayings of three Muslims in Chapel Hill, N.C., by a purported atheist, raises the question of whether criticizing the religious beliefs of others is an inherently intolerant or provocative act. Sam Harris argues on his podcast that there is no validity to this claim. Do you agree or disagree, and why?

    Before entertaining answers to the question it is necessary to understand what Sam Harris is saying even if that requires listening attentively to the podcast two or three times. Dr. Harris displays a remarkably incisive mind which covers the comprehensive concerns with persuasive observations and analysis. In my opinion, many ostensible “disagreements,” which people have with him, would vaporize by simply hearing him out. He makes one of the most compelling cases for scientific atheism combined with secular humanism for our times. (This general assessment of his work in no way implies immunity from rational criticism, especially on several controversial issues such as the profiling of Muslims by airport security or the banning of guns.)

    A thorough critique, point by point, of the podcast could fill a library shelf with heavy volumes. I will limit my comments to the way Harris describes the virtue of “tolerance.” The phrase “for our times” defines the indispensable context for pragmatic understanding of how we use the term today in discourse. “Tolerance for intolerance is cowardice” Harris proclaims. The power he brings to his argument derives from intellectual theories and political reforms developing over several centuries of European history but solidifying in public consciousness and statutory law effectively from around 1960. The past would have made little sense of the modern concept and implementation of “tolerant” practices. Thou shall not tolerate the offending slave or the blasphemer to escape the whip; the thief or apostate to escape the block or the adulteress to escape the stoning.

    Today “tolerance” has become an imperative for a growing segment of contemporary societies. Although intolerance holds sway in much of the world, notably religious intolerance in Islamic nations, its practices have come under seige from the international community. The new consensus has merged tolerance with human rights, dignity and liberty consistent with the realization of human equality regardless or race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, religion or non-belief. Science confirming the common origin of our species has played a major role. In this new light Sam Harris can communicate “tolerance” not as a discretionary blessing but as an imperative for human flourishing in secular communities affirming common humanity though morality, law and consciousness.



    Report abuse

  • What are the rude things Christians complain of?

    I suppose examples would be a fairly arrogant attitude of “I know better than you what your life is” (you are deluded) and “I know better than you how you should be bringing up your children” (don’t consider your children to be religious).



    Report abuse

  • Ewan,

    These were the reasons why I was (relatively) rude to you in some of my posts. I suppose having different ‘beliefs’ can only result in arrogance. You thinking you are complete with god means that I can only be incomplete in your eyes.You can only think the the RCC has got it right so all other religions are wrong.Sure you can tolerate but its the tolerance you would give to a junky, its not really tolerance but pity. In a world full of atheist there is one less pitiable thing (it does mean a whole lot more, like LGBT’s not having to read bad things about themselves as well but….)



    Report abuse

  • The slayings of three Muslims in Chapel Hill, N.C., by a purported
    atheist, raises the question of whether criticizing the religious
    beliefs of others is an inherently intolerant or provocative act. Sam
    Harris argues on his podcast that there is no validity to this claim.
    Do you agree or disagree, and why?

    Criticising the religionS: Pick one out in particular (as an atheist) that is not your supposed origin and it becomes a different issue.

    Mocking: Is not criticising and should be left to the professional. I would not want the leader of my country to use this method, as an argument at this scale would mean disaster. Criticising particular aspects is the preferred method with reference to human rights. Make sure your own house is in order as this may cause embarrassment or negate the message.

    Provocation: An invitation to a response to be used with discretion. Red rags mean nothing to a cat.



    Report abuse

  • Olgun Feb 27, 2015 at 2:15 am

    These were the reasons why I was (relatively) rude to you in some of my posts.

    That is the essence of arguments on this site, Where there is a conflict between well evidenced scientific expert opinion, and the introspective egotism of gods and ancient mythology. –
    Plus the offended card vagaries as back-up where there is no evidence or logical reasoning!



    Report abuse

  • But it is entirely Ewan’s right to think you and I are “missing something”. It would be better that we reacted not to his thoughts but the actions that may then follow. This is why I think Catholics better than their church. Those I have got to know as friends are kind and compassionate and simply don’t make the negative judgment calls you would think they are obliged to. And this is why I am concerned about how children are inculcated into the faith, how their freedom to operate as their own moral authors may be crimped by antique dogma that will, nevertheless, get to change one day, centuries late, but just as it has in the past.



    Report abuse

  • But all religions have a few aspects in common. For Alan it is their claims to scientific truth. For me it is their claims to moral authorship. Religion is an aspect of peoples cultures and I am far more interested in critiqueing cultures in the largest sense. Religions should not get any special licence compared to say politics or social policy. That the religious seek at nearly every stage to make it a no-go area is the essence of the problem.

    I agree mocking (hypocrisy, say) is what cartoonists do best. Leaders as far as far as I can see do not use it because they have a more specific job to do and must be diplomats mostly to do it.

    Provocation to thinking is directed at onlookers, mainly those not yet fully invested. I don’t understand why people imagine these discussions with the entrenched are for any other purpose.



    Report abuse

  • That was the battle between Spock and Dr, McCoy on Star Treck with Kirk the smuggest of them all. Human science verses empirical logic verses impulse.



    Report abuse

  • I don’t deny he has the right but wonder what he is doing on a site dedicated to atheists? Those that have come and gone have not been as effective and gentle as Ewan I have to admit but, I would not dream of going to a religious site and troll or even try to persuade. I can appreciate Ewan wanting to do so none the less. Some of his posts have been evasive, in my view, and that is what angered me and made me suspicious. As long as he realises that his being here can be viewed as arrogant only to be countered by his manner and content of his posts, then I can accept it. It is not a question of prejudice but intent, with relation to previous posters, and the give and take that ensues. Give and take as in tolerance because we will never agree on half a god.



    Report abuse

  • That the religious seek at nearly every stage to make it a no-go area
    is the essence of the problem.

    There aren’t any no go areas but different levels of access. Sam is an atheist speaker. The obvious point at which he made a mistake is rating religions, let alone with no political input. It then needs a defender. Enter Aslan. Same book, different interpretations. Ring any bells? Provocation to thinking should be done with the lowest common denominator in mind. Speaking to a room full of coherent people is different to the wider world. Owning a gun is not enough. Learning how to use it safely is essential. That is not enough. Learning when to use it is essential. That is not enough. Learning not to use it is essential….etc Brave and balsy doesn’t always work out!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zun3I6qIdQ



    Report abuse

  • If I thought this a site dedicated to atheists rather than to science and reason, I would be gone in a shot.

    I would not dream of going to a religious site and troll or even try to persuade.

    For years I have gone to religious sites open to all to debate there. It has been hugely informative. Some are very active in soliciting input from every which way.

    We’ve had really impressive religious minds post here in the past. Maddening, but impressive. Its astonishing how genuine engagement shuts down mockery. Like that. (snaps fingers).

    We may fall out, get angry (because we both care) kiss and make up and do it all again. Even now I suspect few people here could delineate my current worldview reliably. Talking brings new insights everyday.

    his being here can be viewed as arrogant

    Why arrogant? This I just don’t understand. We must always start from a position that a person is earnest, deluded maybe, but earnest.

    Why do people so impute motive so quickly? Maybe its just that I am bad at picking these things out? But it always looks like poisoning the well before you’ve reached it.



    Report abuse

  • 130
    Lorenzo says:

    Well, Ewan, if I didn’t think I was right (or less wrong than my counterpart in the discussion), I wouldn’t be making the case for any position… don’t you find?
    I’m sure you think that Catholicism is, at least, less wrong than Paganism otherwise you wouldn’t so passionately defend it -at least: I hope you have some other reason to stick to your beliefs other than pure and simple inertia…

    As for arrogance, I think it’s a last hope kind of accusation, the kind of you formulate when you really run out of arguments (and patience to consider those coming from your counterpart)… I wouldn’t use it.
    I like to think that any honest, well balanced person can change her mind if exposed to a rational, well founded argument that proves her wrong -though I know it’s very rarely the case. I try to make it a rule of life, as universal as possible.



    Report abuse

  • Science and reason seems to only apply to atheist in its fullest sense so I attribute this site to atheism. That does not mean I don’t like Ewan being here.Apart from a few unanswered questions, that I found telling at the time, he conducts himself very well.

    Arrogant in the way that all people who think they have the upper ground are, including us. Less arrogant after seeing his post on the RCC.



    Report abuse

  • So to someone who doesn’t agree with you, you are intolerent and/or provocative?
    One can use criticism to show how something/ someone is truly WRONG! We DO have common sense, that is to say, what benefits the survival of the group or groups in a forward looking fashion, could be the best way to behave! ” Do as thy would be done by” seems to be in all walks of religious paths AND pagan ones too! Sooooooooo——-!!!!!!



    Report abuse

  • so I attribute this site to atheism.

    Your welcome to, but I’ll stick with Richard’s banner.

    Arrogant in the way that all people who think they have the upper ground are

    Nonsense. I see confidence more often. Often nothing malign.



    Report abuse

  • I have no wish to be gentle and loving towards idiots and misguided fascists or believers in ancient iron aged myths , trying to enforce others to follow their useless and foggy thinking paths! Having said that , they have the right to think whatever they wish, just keep it out of schools and politics. They could have a kind of “Tupperware Party” for their same thinking friends , at home, but they should be ‘made’ (convinced,or taught maybe better, ) not to brain wash their children, with their crap, but I don’t see how! This IS child abuse and it should be be fought against! I am not a violent man , but listening to children who spout religious crap by wrote, is sickening and EVIL and I feel lioke becoming violent! But no, I wish not to become like them!!!



    Report abuse

  • Your welcome to, but I’ll stick with Richard’s banner.

    Strange! none of the rest of my comment meant anything!

    Nonsense. I see confidence more often. Often nothing malign.

    Me and Ewan will stick to arrogance ….



    Report abuse

  • none of the rest of my comment meant anything!

    No. Making yet more groups is part of the underlying problem.

    Me and Ewan will stick to arrogance ….

    Faux humility in my view. I never thought him arrogant. Confident and then (possibly) mistaken is a fine sequence of feelings. I’ll be honest. I loathe the image of this world you two live in. So complex. I really must put it down to the fact that I possess fewer social skills than others. (I think I possibly do.)



    Report abuse

  • I’ll be honest. I loathe the image of this world you two live in. So
    complex. I really must put it down to the fact that I possess fewer
    social skills than others.

    Are you saying you might not be street wise Phil because sometimes I think you might not be. Every other type of wise I envy you for but maybe not street. I have been in touch with my senses for as long as I can remember. There are six children in my family and my mum has commented on how in touch with reality I was/am compared to the others. I have no problem with recognising all sorts of traits in me and others. There is no black or white in the world. We possess all the traits in doses and arrogance is one of them no matter what makeup we use to cover it. I am incapable of isolating items in a stand alone situation. The big bang started it all and worlds formed and I made a cup of strong coffee this morning. Whats there to loath? The paint smelling world of the Queen is not reality. No offence.



    Report abuse

  • Olgun you might not be surprised I have a different take on this. It is about the broad sweep of personality types on the empathy scale, the problems of low innate empathy versus the problems of high innate empathy, the failures to read versus the risk of over-reading. We will go off topic seriously if I take this up in detail now, but I will gladly trade any compliments about savvy (quite undeserved but kind) for the planet-saving virtue of not over-reading the harms in situations.



    Report abuse

  • Criticising the religious beliefs of others is NOT an inherently intolerant or provocative act. In fact those people should be questioning their beliefs for themselves and some kind of self-delusion, hypnosis or control by a third party is going on if they don’t apply the same critical faculties they exercise when assessing everything else in life. If someone is being obviously irrational, it can be a kindness to point this out, can’t it?

    Most formal religions are not backward in coming forward to promote their offerings, so why should atheistic viewpoints not be afforded a similar courtesy?

    Whatever the mystical or religious experience is, in my personal experience very real, it ultimately has no form or framework of any kind in time and space and it is certainly not in the exclusive gift of any particular teacher or preacher, let alone its fossilised traditional framework labelled a religion of some kind.

    Institutional religion, in order to survive (and it often provides a good subsidised living for those involved) usually has to deny direct experience of what it is they promote – they will say you can only get a pale glimpse of it through their chosen faith – just keep paying the subs.

    Because the ultimate divine experience is formless, you can’t say exactly what it is, it defies words, but you can say what various aspects of it are a bit like, and so religions get their flavours and spin according to whomsoever poked a head above the parapet trying to explain the revelation. Religions in the person’s name may later be set up which may not be anything particularly to do with the person in whose name it purports to speak. Some emphatically asked that devotees did not set up institutions in his or her name, but were ignored.

    Human consciousness is on a sliding scale. Drink enough and you will go unconscious. Take one of the many entheogens traditionally used by cultures throughout history and you can experience being at one with your existence and you may be lucky enough to have the direct experience, but what you will immediately wonder afterwards is where all the huge agglomeration of historical religious clutter came from, why they are still here and why so many mean-spirited people are associated with them. Memes.

    Emotions are fickle things and we are so much addicts of those we have labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad’ over the years. Through the glandular secretions induced into the bloodstream they are every bit as equal to taking an external drug of some kind as The Extended Phenotype agrees. So don’t think you aren’t a drug addict, you might well be.

    Emotional cravings are often irrational, no longer useful to us and a downright hindrance. Beware of your emotions. Much of what is called religion caters for a variety of false emotional needs and is ultimately no more than an entertainment circus, masquerading as something more profound. Not in itself any more harmful than any other entertainment, as long as it is recognised for what it is and no more.

    Inter-religious argument is no better than ignorant warring football teams and we would consider it our right to criticise those people – wouldn’t we?

    Whatever the case, there will eventually be an understanding of mystical, revelatory, religious experience that will hold up to scientific explanation and scrutiny and the mechanisms will be very well understood and explicable, perhaps in newly invented terms that are not ‘loaded’. They will intimately involve an understanding of DNA and our ability to tap into cellular memory and so forth. They won’t oppose anything that Richard Dawkins tells us.

    You cannot put any new viewpoints or experiences into someone who is already full up with all the answers. These current answers are likely to be erroneous, stemming from indoctrination at an early age from a fossilised religion. This, for me, is where the Dawkins Foundation has much merit, in peeling away the rusty crusty layers of institutional religion, emptying people of the burden of religious oppression, so that more useful concepts might be considered.



    Report abuse

  • There aren’t any no go areas

    The religious seek to make it so. Cleverer people seeking to stifle the debate throw out terms like Islamophobic, throw out claims that any such discussions are malign in intention and the area is further sealed off by the incited outrage of ordinary folk.

    Folks, bring up your kids not to take offense!

    Those who intended to give it will be unrewarded and probably stop. Those who didn’t probably wouldn’t notice either way.



    Report abuse

  • I agree with Sam Harris. Intolerance isn’t the mere criticism of ideas, but an attempt at repressing them. If one defines rejecting an idea as intolerant, then it becomes impossible to tolerate anyone else’s ideas but your own- after all, if you agree with it, it’s your idea too. The ability to disagree with someone’s opinions or beliefs openly is central to civilized discourse. The line from mere disagreement to intolerance is not drawn when you argue with someone’s beliefs, but when you attempt to stop them from being able to express them. Petitioning the government to intervene, or threatening the person with violence if they express themselves would be examples of intolerance.

    Whether it’s provocative is another matter. To some extent, provocation is in the eye of the beholder: anyone reading this could possibly become very angry with me for writing it and wish me harm. In that case, I certainly did provoke them, but was I using provocative language, or are they just “too easily” provoked? A quick look at almost any internet forum will show that it’s possible to provoke people to intense anger with practically any statement, so a results-oriented view of provocation is a little too vague. Instead, let’s consider provocative speech as speech which was intended by the author to provoke. If I write something with the intent of producing an emotional reaction, I am provoking that reaction, even if I may accidentally provoke the opposite reaction in some readers. If I am writing with no such intent, then I don’t think it’s fair to call it provocative writing, whatever the reaction may be. Of course, simply taking the author’s word for it may produce it’s own problems- he might write something with the intent of inciting a riot, but later insist that his intention was only to raise a point and spark debate. The author’s intentions might be gleaned from reading what he wrote, or they might not be completely knowable. In any case, dismissing all criticism of one’s beliefs as intolerant or provocative is a huge oversimplification.



    Report abuse

  • James Feb 27, 2015 at 10:27 am

    I agree with Sam Harris. Intolerance isn’t the mere criticism of ideas, but an attempt at repressing them. If one defines rejecting an idea as intolerant, then it becomes impossible to tolerate anyone else’s ideas but your own- after all, if you agree with it, it’s your idea too. The ability to disagree with someone’s opinions or beliefs openly is central to civilized discourse. The line from mere disagreement to intolerance is not drawn when you argue with someone’s beliefs, but when you attempt to stop them from being able to express them.

    Like this?

    US-Bangladesh blogger Avijit Roy hacked to death – http: //www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-31656222

    .Attackers in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka have hacked to death a US-Bangladeshi blogger whose writings on religion angered Islamist hardliners.

    Avijit Roy, an atheist who advocated secularism, was attacked as he walked back from a book fair with his wife, who was also hurt in the attack.

    No-one has been arrested but police say they are investigating a local Islamist group that praised the killing.

    Hundreds of people gathered in Dhaka to mourn the blogger’s death.

    Mr Roy’s family say he received threats after publishing articles promoting secular views, science and social issues on his Bengali-language blog, Mukto-mona (Free Mind).

    He defended atheism in a recent Facebook post, calling it a “rational concept to oppose any unscientific and irrational belief”.



    Report abuse

  • 145
    jackolantern2 says:

    I agree with Sam Harris insofar as criticism should never be a motivation for violence. That said, the atheist community isn’t immune to attracting some mentally ill individuals who might act on what they hear in decidedly antisocial ways. This, however, should not form the basis for criticism of those who criticise religion. The principle of free speech is a foundational freedom of western civilization, and should be defended at any cost; even to the extent that there are those who would twist criticism into an excuse for violence.

    My previous statement notwithstanding, I am not convinced that religious bigotry had anything to do with the N. Carolina shooting. North Carolina sees over 400 murders per year, over 300 of which are perpetrated with firearms. To take this one incident and immediately conclude that Hicks’ atheism and opposition to religion was a primary motivation in the crime (contrary to his, and his ex-wife’s statements) is a big stretch, to say the least.



    Report abuse

  • Phil,

    I think I would rather be your guinea pig and have you demonstrate that by my postings. I might learn something about myself in the process and it will stay on topic in general terms. In case you think I am being sarcastic, I am not. I always prefer real life versions of theories.



    Report abuse

  • Is this not to do with the way one presents one’s views?

    I might say that, as a believer, I consider atheists to be unable to reach their full human potential by not having any awareness of God in their lives. Alternatively, I might say that the lack of any acknowledgement of God in the lives of atheists makes them sub-human.

    It seems to me that the second sentence is phrased very offensively while the first isn’t; yet there’s not a great deal of difference between the meaning of the two sentences.

    So I’m with those who suggest that we should try to put any offensiveness to one side and concentrate on the underlying meaning. The offensiveness may well not have been meant; it’s easy to mistake tone, particularly on the Internet. And for me, even if it was meant, we Christians are supposed to rise above it.



    Report abuse

  • I really don’t think the issue is black and white. A criticism can be both, intolerant and provocative, or neither. It is a matter of the person doing the criticizing and whether they are honest with themselves or not. If you are trying to be hurtful, hateful and insulting then yes it is both but if you are trying to have a conversation, make a useful statement or solve problems then it’s neither. Being offended or insulted are just automatic reactions we all have to words and actions. To dwell on it, let it fester, be provoked and act on the emotions we feel is a choice we make. What ever happened to self-control? I can only control myself.



    Report abuse

  • It is condescending of you (and others) who say you are doing a religious person a favor by attacking them. We of faith, of course, could say the same of you (we need to save you from hell after all; you’re just saving us from a few decades of delusion).

    I’ve heard that hell argument plenty of times from people of faith. It doesn’t offend me much, you will not be surprised that I don’t believe in it. Although I wish the religious would resist introducing their young children to such concepts. Does your religion have a concept of hell? Do you believe atheists and followers of other religions go there automatically?



    Report abuse

  • The mother of a good friend of mine was seriously religious and near the end of her life. A deeply devout Catholic, she was starting to become demented to add to her woes.

    The last year or so of her life became the hell she was so deeply fearful of. She was convinced that that was were she was going and nothing could console her or change her mind about it. The stories drummed into her, her childhood terrors, came thundering back, as they do for old folk as the intervening memories are wiped away. She could barely be sedated enough to quash her daily fears.

    I hope, Nordic, I am correct in my understanding that this particular, disgusting stick has now been laid aside with the new carrots-only, child-friendly Catholisicism?



    Report abuse

  • 151
    RandyPing says:

    By every account, the Chapel Hill shooter was a sociopath and a bully. These Muslim students were not the only people this man pushed around. The problem here is not atheism, not criticism of beliefs. The actual problem here, in this very specific case, is that a sociopath with pronounced antisocial behaviors was allowed to bully and intimidate his neighbors, that despite TWO seperate neighborhoood meetings where the local community asked the local police to do something, nothing was done. This mentally damaged bully was able to not only acquire guns, he was allowed to use them as a tool of intimidation with impunity and eventually murder three innocent human beings who were, by any standard, kind and charitable young people. There is an agenda driven, self serving narrative that Is hijacking this tragedy in the various media outlets, and it does disservice to the truth and to these three kids who were so visciously murdered- partly to demonize atheists, partly to squelch honest criticism of religion. So let’s not play into either of those camps by playing into that sinister type of narrative. The problem here is one of, yet again, an antisocial sociopath picked up a gun and murdered three young people in cold blood, AND it could have been prevented.



    Report abuse

  • I might say that, as a believer, I consider atheists to be unable to reach their full human potential by not having any awareness of God in their lives. Alternatively, I might say that the lack of any acknowledgement of God in the lives of atheists makes them sub-human.

    These aren’t the same pieces of information. I would prefer the honesty of mind and hear what you actually feel about atheists. I suspect you would not fall into the “sub-human” mindset, but consider atheists no less human than the uneducated, say. But I am thankful for the honesty of mind of that UK UKIP (councillor?) who said what she really thinks about “negroes”.

    I am thankful for the honesty of mind of Geert Wilders and of Christopher Hitchens so that I could tell the Muslimophobe from the anti-Islamism-ist, though both had been crudely labelled Islamophobe. Out of atheists I want to know which are Muslimophobic. There are a couple of hot heads pass through here that get a rough time. It is hugely important to remember who makes most use of careful, polite speaking. It is sociopaths. And at the other end, even in the Street Epistomology threads, which (genuinely!) crave an aspect respectfulness, I am concerned that the true motivations for the engagement are not fully clear in the bland reassurance of “helping”.

    When we are honest about what we know and honest about what we feel, all can better profit from the exchange. It might not be a neat tidy exchange, but it will make a surer footing for the next exchange.

    The offensiveness may well not have been meant; it’s easy to mistake tone, particularly on the Internet. And for me, even if it was meant, we Christians are supposed to rise above it.

    This is absolutely the essence of my point. Rather than obsess on trying not to be offensive, (worry more about being truly honest) and concentrate on not taking offense. Indeed, turning the other cheek is a fantastic lesson. For me the best Christian legacy of all.

    Besides, in not crying, “Offense!” we may hear more to our advantage.



    Report abuse

  • Another thing to remember is that language is often used in a deliberately provocative way, either simply in order to get a reaction or to clarify a particular situation. The latter can be useful, but it is also essentially divisive. It forces people into opposing camps. Too often, I think, the clarification process results in a naturally grey situation becoming unnaturally black and white.

    I’m a believer but I know lots of people who have very different views on religion to me and we get on fine; it’s not really an issue between us and even when we discuss religion and find that we have what seem to be wholly incompatible views, that doesn’t seem to affect our friendship in any way. We seem able to tolerate our differences with little difficulty.

    Yet that doesn’t seem to be an option when it comes to public debate where it’s all us and them, for me or against me, rocks and hard places, blue water between distinctive policies. Maybe it’s all to do with entertainment. A noisy, dramatic, very public battle between opposing viewpoints is always going to be more exciting than the quiet search for common ground. But in the long term, I think the latter approach is more likely to be successful.



    Report abuse

  • A noisy, dramatic, very public battle between opposing viewpoints is always going to be more exciting than the quiet search for common ground.

    I’m not advocating any of that. I’m not preaching for drama. I’m preaching for not playing the offense card. I’ve found this the perfect way of dealing with uppity, angry teens and children. Don’t rise to the bait. It works to everyone’s benefit and creates much better lessons about what effective discourse is.

    I am certainly not seeking common ground except in a few instances. I’m seeking the more moral path and the better truth first and foremost. I want very much to see an end to Catholic sexist dogma, anti-condom fueling of AIDs and an African Malthusian catastrophe. I would like Catholics to seriously consider how they treat their kids at home and in church. Schools get better and better, thanks to the NC and Ofsted. But I think its not understood how indoctrinating offering certain powerful ideas as copper-bottomed truths at a very young age can be. The psychology of this is pretty well understood.

    This isn’t a case of just getting on and living together in peace and harmony. Its way more important than that. Morally we can all do a lot better. When IS rails against some aspects of western society and threatens to defend against that and extend its own, then squint thus and so and you can see a little of what they are on about. The US attitude to sex is badly screwed up, commercialised to a huge degree, yet massively prudish and uptight about it with an adolescent snickeriness bringing the two together. Totally dysfunctional and a poor lesson to kids. The sex stats of the US are a disgrace caused in part by this bipolar attitude

    I’m not seeking peace, I’m seeking to stimulate communities that breed kinder and more rational people, people who more often do their own moral thinking. If I could create Quakers (say) out of Catholics and Sufis out of Wahhabists, I’d go concentrate on sustainable living, and leave you all in peace.



    Report abuse

  • I would like Catholics to seriously consider how they treat their kids at home and in church.

    How they treat their children is a subject which most Catholic parents give a lot of thought to – just as most non-Catholic parents do. They have their own views and they may well be open to considering the views of others.

    However, the “Don’t Force Your Religious Opinions on Your Children” approach is liable to shut down such dialogue before it has even begun. Frankly, I don’t think it’s intended to create dialogue; it’s intended to impose.



    Report abuse

  • Quite a few years ago here, I used to write about one of my best drinking buddies (we termed it liquid philosophy). Very bright, he was an English Catholic, married to an Irish Catholic, fierce and bright herself. I first discussed with him the findings of Victoria Horner (who demonstrated this thing that human kids were uniquely trainable, in believing an authority figure above the evidence of their own eyes and reason. Chimp kids were far smarter.) He saw and accepted instantly that harm was doable by this fact and that if any idea of personal choice was to be allowed then such training as was given to children needed to fit them for an honest one.

    Indeed, it was with him I developed the idea of parallel sunday schools and service/mass and also with him the idea of a bedtime thoughtfulness about others. Of himself he said he always felt duty bound to explain to his kids how the world was and not just how the Catholic world was. Catholics, it would seem, can have differing takes on this issue.

    Frankly, I don’t think it’s intended to create dialogue; it’s intended to impose.

    Deliberate offense you think?



    Report abuse

  • He saw and accepted instantly that harm was doable by this fact

    If Catholic children are being harmed by being brought up in the faith, why is OFSTED not picking it up in their inspections of Catholic schools? They consider pupil’s independence, maturity and thinking skills as part of their inspection remit.



    Report abuse

  • Deliberate offense you think?

    Oh I think so. It’s a standard tactic by Richard Dawkins with his use of tendentious terms like delusion, indoctrination and child abuse when it comes to believers.



    Report abuse

  • I find myself agreeing with you here Ewan and when I ask why it is so, I come up with the answer that it is out of some sort of loyalty (read trying not to sound hypocritical) to the doctrine of truth. In particular to Christopher Hitchens speech.



    Report abuse

  • Phil “But I am thankful for the honesty of mind of that UK UKIP
    (councillor?) who said what she really thinks about “negroes”.”

    But it was not honest. It was covered by “But I don’t why”. This sparked a debate on LBC (who I know play the devils advocate) about whether she really was racist because racists know exactly why they are racist.

    My other concern is that once people have uttered words they may regret but feel they have to stand by them. Sorry seems to be the hardest word.



    Report abuse

  • why is OFSTED not picking it up in their inspections of Catholic schools?

    Well its all faith schools we should be discussing. Other faiths fair far worse on the indoctrination front and are now starting to be confronted by OFSTED. For Catholicism as we have noted families are differently respectful to their offspring. OFSTED are to inspect the ethos and abilities of the schools not the individual probems of the children. As I have said repeatedly (to try and get this conversation away from schools to homes and church) the potential damage is to issues of freedom to choose against heaven and hell or to find your life’s aesthetics, closed, snug and eternal or open, wind-swept and transient.



    Report abuse

  • . It’s a standard tactic by Richard Dawkins with his use of tendentious terms like delusion, indoctrination and child abuse when it comes to believers.

    I think it is entirely what he honestly believes. I also. I’ll point to Sapolsky, and Oliver Sacks, Horner and many other psychologists for support on why and how the religious have the experiences they do, how children are wired in a near permanent way by early training and these particular terms prevent these new and important insights sinking without trace. They also flag a genuine level of concern and anger. This is serious. It is not for the sport.

    Argue it is not indoctrination.



    Report abuse

  • It is precisely the honesty of “I don’t know why” that signals to me at least that she is not in control of her feelings. She cannot reliably account for herself nor possibly her future actions. She is not public servant material. That, or she’s more simply a devious racist.



    Report abuse

  • Well that was the problem Phil, either or!

    I think the link to UKIP together with her comments says devious in my mind. This is the sort of person I have been talking about all along. I have worked in many of her clones houses.



    Report abuse

  • Argue it is not indoctrination.

    The Merriam-Webster Dictionary gives as one definition of indoctrination: to instruct especially in fundamentals or rudiments : teach.

    So teaching a child the basics of a religion can rightly be termed indoctrination, as can teaching a child the basics of science.

    However, indoctrination also has a less salubrious meaning, in which it is akin to brainwashing, and when speaking of indoctrination that secondary meaning is hinted at. Which is why, on websites such as this one, you will regularly see references to “religious indoctrination” but almost never see references to “scientific indoctrination”.



    Report abuse

  • If I may interject something here:

    If you want to offend somebody it is enough to tell him the truth.
    -Friedrich Nietzsche

    All these saying work well in stand alone situations but children are truthful;

    ‘Dad. That woman is fat’. In earshot of woman) What do you do?



    Report abuse

  • However, indoctrination also has a less salubrious meaning, in which
    it is akin to brainwashing, and when speaking of indoctrination that
    secondary meaning is hinted at. Which is why, on websites such as this
    one, you will regularly see references to “religious indoctrination”
    but almost never see references to “scientific indoctrination”.

    This one I can’t agree with on Ewan. Indoctrination of fact? ‘Hey son! That is a bus coming towards us but you can interpret it as you want when you grow up. We will wait here until then’.



    Report abuse

  • I think both our purposes are served by this strong definition

    to instruct in a doctrine, principle, ideology, etc., especially to imbue with a specific partisan or biased belief or point of view.

    This is the generally intended implication. It is the one that may prove most offensive, and is probably the one intended by RD. (It is what I intended when I first proposed it to my Catholic friend back in 2008.)

    Argue it is not this strong thing.



    Report abuse

  • 172
    Lorenzo says:

    Olgun,

    All these saying work well in stand alone situations but children are truthful;
    ‘Dad. That woman is fat’. In earshot of woman. What do you do?

    That’s going ton be a bit of a situation, because, I think, you’ll have to try to deny the child’s statement while still in earshot of the woman and then explain to your child that it’s somewhat rude to point out some kind of truths to people, because of… the quote I reported.

    Anyway, I sort of agree with Phil on this thread of the discussion: honesty is preferable to circumlocutions. If anything, saves brain work.
    Of course, one can be honest with style or be honest in a very sloppy way -I tend to prefer the first kind of honesty.



    Report abuse

  • Argue it is not this strong thing.

    Bringing as child up in the Catholic faith does involve instructing in a doctrine, however the Catholic faith is neither partisan nor biased.



    Report abuse

  • Well that was the problem Phil, either or!

    I think her statement was honest, in fact. I remember a dreadful right-winger here arguing precisely this way (about homosexuals and his behaviour towards them). He didn’t know why he was repulsed, but the feeling was natural and unbidden so his behaviour towards them was, in his view, quite justified. These people have no sense that feelings and behaviours are quite distinct and that it is morals that buffer one from another. I don’t have to find her malicious to find her utterly without merit. Either way, though, she is damned by her own speech. I’m glad she felt no need to guard her speech in any greater way.



    Report abuse

  • So teaching a child the basics of a religion can rightly be termed indoctrination, as can teaching a child the basics of science.

    If you were forced to reject one of these indoctrinations for your own children, would you really reject science. For atheists and most religious, it would be a no-brainer.

    Edit: maybe not most religious, unfortunately.



    Report abuse

  • Olgun Feb 28, 2015 at 3:12 pm

    If you want to offend somebody it is enough to tell him the truth. – -Friedrich Nietzsche

    All these saying work well in stand alone situations but children are truthful;

    ‘Dad. That woman is fat’. In earshot of woman) What do you do?

    So, when the emperor has no clothes, are we honest or do we pander?



    Report abuse

  • Yet the woman knows this is not malice. All shall live after the event and the woman may do a little more excercise and live a longer happier life as a result. We teach politeness of course. We should though place it third after truthfulness, and turning the other cheek.



    Report abuse

  • 180
    Lorenzo says:

    Olgun,

    And so we teach restraint in the face of truth

    Not all truths are created equal, though. The fatness of some passer by is neither a truth that she is unaware of, nor one that needs pointing out.
    Perhaps, what we really teach, is not restraint “in the face of” truth rather restraint when truth just doesn’t matter.



    Report abuse

  • Alan,

    That’s the point, horses for courses.

    Phil,

    In another life, my ex-wife’s friend was in pieces crying uncontrollably. Truth effects people in different ways.

    Lorenzo,

    It matters in different ways. The NHS is suffering because of it so as Phil says, it could have positive results. Add dishonesty to the equation and we have politicians 😉



    Report abuse

  • my ex-wife’s friend was in pieces crying uncontrollably.

    She didn’t die though. Sometimes people need a bit of a kick.

    “My goodness! What if he’s not just saying that to be nasty? What if it really is Indoctrination???”

    Must away. I have been saving up part 6 of Wolf Hall. Awesome stuff….

    So…Not just don’t take offense. Don’t be too quick to bat things away as mere malice. In my experience, malice is a near useless explanation for why people do things.



    Report abuse

  • the question…[is] whether [or not] criticizing the religious beliefs of others is an inherently intolerant or provocative act.

    Apparently the question refers to criticism by atheists of religionists. Both have constructed belief systems about the universe and everything it contains with irreconcilable differences emerging from opposing methodologies for justifying belief.

    Atheists rely on science directed by methodology for investigating natural phenomena using experiment and observation to gather empirical evidence. Rational analysis is applied at each step of the process to confirm findings pending further experimentation and research. Findings are accepted or rejected and constantly refined seeking ever greater explanatory power for warranting belief. Scientist feel uncomfortable with the language of “Truth” to the extent that the term might be misconstrued as advocating the suspension of further research. Nonetheless over recent centuries science has accumulated an overwhelming body of evidence which virtually confirms that supernatural entities, forces or planes of being do not exist, especially discrediting claims that the “supernatural” has played some ineffable role in the origin (creation) of the physical universe, intervention in natural phenomena, or mystical contact with homo Sapiens.

    Over at the magesterium, religious authority relies on profession of faith in Absolute Truth emanating from “revelations” by supernatural powers usually transmitted to prophets or holy men and written down in sacred scriptures. The impartial observer will equate the justification process for religious belief with fabricated tautology opposed to the scientific method which probes natural phenomena in order to derive cognitive connections based on complex evolving empirical evidence: The proposition that Jesus rose from the dead is true because it is written in the Bible. Because the Bible is affirmed by profession of faith to be the Word of God, the proposition that Jesus rose from the dead must therefore be true transcending scientific investigation on the superior grounds of divinely ordained a priori logic: “Truth is Truth.”

    Atheist criticism of religious belief considered inherently “intolerant and provocative,” is loaded with ambiguity. Of course whenever people holding opposing worldviews clash, it is human nature for both parties to feel unjustly attacked, rejected and “misunderstood.” Apart from Craig Hicks and other rare cases where contemporary atheists have regrettably resorted to abuse, threats, discrimination or violence against persons or ethnic-religious groups, the values of secular humanism have usually guided atheist engagement with believers. Consistent with the ethic of the scientific method, secular humanism insists on freedom of speech and conscience within a democratic civic square where open inquiry provides the foundation for robust civil debate on all beliefs and practices, secular or religious. Adhering to such a protocol within such an environment, consensus should form and reform staying the course for human flourishing.



    Report abuse

  • Must away. I have been saving up part 6 of Wolf Hall. Awesome stuff….

    I hope you enjoyed it. It was an extraordinary series – not least in turning that monster, Thomas Cromwell, into a sympathetic figure.

    the Catholic faith is neither partisan nor biased.

    Lets pick partisan.

    How not? Is Catholic faith fit for Protestant use?

    To me, the essential elements of being partisan involve an unthinking allegiance to one group and an associated prejudice against opponents of that group.

    In my view, neither of those apply to the Catholic faith. It is a lifelong process of thinking and learning and, when it comes to our enemies, the teaching of Jesus is clear – we are expected to love them.

    Our relationships with Protestant and other Christian churches are good. A simple example might be back in January when my own church hosted this year’s service to mark the end of The Week Of Prayer For Christian Unity for our local area. The service was jointly led by 9 or 10 vicars, ministers, pastors and priests and the church was full of members from all the different congregations. This doesn’t strike me as a prejudiced approach.



    Report abuse

  • I hope you enjoyed it. It was an extraordinary series – not least in turning that monster, Thomas Cromwell, into a sympathetic figure.

    I did indeed enjoy it, though that seems a little mild for such art. How vivid the man becomes if we no longer dully ascribe mere malice, but accept he may have had manifiold motivations producing huge internal moral struggles the while caught in the (ultimately fatal) whimsical favour of a tyrant king. How more nearly like the world we recognise if we allow complexity in.

    an unthinking allegiance to one group

    You have got to my point faster then I expected. The home and church indoctrination is multiply partisan at its different levels, displacing in various ways protestantism, naturalism, Jainism, etc., etc. It becomes indoctrination for a 4 to 7 year old and not for a roundly educated 13 year old because of the differing capacity for rational thought and discernment. But, also, most particularly, because not only is the wiring for rational thought far from complete in the infant brain, this certain knowledge accepted on trust above their own feelings in the matter, actually comes to occupy some part of where the rational wiring should be. A partisan explanatory mechanism of universal application providing instant relief to problems.

    A lot of my work involves building theoretical models of systems, subject to well understood physics processes. I have worked with many engineers and technicians both here and in the US. One curious failing I have noted with reasonable consistency of those brought up in religious households (we discuss these things) is that of failing to trust in the models. When things don’t work, rather than finding a model mismatch with the real world to be a missing or wrong parameter, they abandon the model and take up a more intuitive approach. Somehow trust in simple causality seems missing. These people are perfectly good and high achieving in other ways.

    I can’t be sure (nor can you be) but I worry that certain powerful ideas introduced too early can entirely bias the thinking, the reason and the aesthetics of children. Their choices are reduced for them. And I have yet to hear why having children understand that sex and religion are things for grownups, whilst giving them full moral instruction and a general education in such topics, could possibly be a bad thing?



    Report abuse

  • 187
    Olgun says:

    Phil: How more nearly like the world we recognise if we allow
    complexity in.

    I would never believe you have thought of anything in just two dimensions.

    When things don’t work, rather than finding a model mismatch with the
    real world to be a missing or wrong parameter, they abandon the model
    and take up a more intuitive approach. Somehow trust in simple
    causality seems missing.

    Brain of gaps. It was very difficult for me to find people competent in fault finding to employ. The amount of money wasted in just changing parts to see if it works is eye watering. If Waltham Forest would let me train people, they would save a fortune and have less complaints but the same brain connections are missing that see the faults in the system.



    Report abuse

  • Surely religious people don’t believe that the only irrational people are the religious. Any world views formed in the absence of early critical thinking skills, and developed in a toxic environment, can and will produce extreme thoughts and actions. While this man seemed to be echoing the views held by many atheists, if this crime was indeed motivated by his opposition to religion, that is where the resemblance to atheism ends and his illness begins.
    We should fully expect others to criticize our bad ideas. Where would science be today without this guiding force? I shudder to think of what our world would look like. It is how we grow and all bad ideas require criticism even if they seem relatively harmless. We would not have arrived at the best time to live in human history without the critical thinking skills that created secular law and a system of rights and freedoms that has vastly reduced the level of irrational faith-based thought throughout the world. Biblical laws are widely rejected in favor of secular law even by those who call themselves religious and they don’t even need atheistic literature to convince them. How atheistic or theistic information is processed in the select few twisted minds who see a need to gun down or behead in the name of their god, or lack of a god, cannot be controlled by silencing criticism without handing them our freedom on a silver plate. Criticism of religion, as provocative as it may be, is only eschewed because of the power it has to educate, effect change and take the power away from those who abuse it. We must stay the course.



    Report abuse

  • 189
    Olgun says:

    Hi Marget,

    I don’t think anyone is saying that healthy thought out criticism should be silenced. It is the chest beating ‘come on bring it on’ Hitchens style that I object to.



    Report abuse

  • @Olgun
    So please explain where exactly you would draw the line. When we are talking about freedom of speech, we are talking about the right to speak or write WITHOUT restriction, interference, or fear. We are not talking about the right to speak or write WITH restriction, interference or fear. Free speech cannot be redefined. Hate speech, however, that attacks, threatens, or insults a person or group is a crime and rightly so because it is intended to bring specific harm to that person or group. It is not a criminal offense to criticize an idea which is not true in an effort to educate and enlighten and reduce the power of that ideology to cause undue harm. And if Hitch needed to ‘bring it on’ to get this educational movement into the game, we are all the better for his genious.



    Report abuse

  • 191
    Olgun says:

    Wherever I draw a line Marget, another one is almost instantly drawn by the person I am talking to, as you have done here. Our lines converge at Hitchens speech with you on one side and me on the other only to have me hop over at the mention of Hitchens genius but then to hop back at him beating his chest. The freedom of speech line seems to be dynamic and that is my point.



    Report abuse

  • @Olgun
    I contend that these were not my lines that were drawn here. I simply supplied the well known definitions of freedom of speech with which I agree and refuse to redefine as dynamic. We have the power to burn a dictionary but we do not have the power to rewrite the definitions. Fear would be the only reason to attempt to do so and fear is the forte of religion.



    Report abuse

  • It is the chest beating ‘come on bring it on’ Hitchens style that I object to.

    You will expect me to disagree (and I do).

    Before Hitch we had to put up with a huge amount of unevidenced condescension. Watch the Life of Brian discussion with Cleese and Palin vs Muggeridge and Bishop Mervyn Stockwood. This assumption of moral superiority with absolutely nothing to show for it (and catered for widely in the media) is what needed to be firmly stamped upon. It needed the equivalent of a bucket of cold water dumping over heads, a shock, to get the clergy to notice even the possibility of moral error. Not only are you not the authors of morality but you may be the destroyers of a good part of the stuff.

    “Religion poisons everything” is both defensible and the nearest an epigram might get to a bucket of cold water, saying, “No really! It is this serious.”

    I don’t know how a political movement to variously establish or re-instate secular values could not have profoundly challenging slogans.



    Report abuse

  • 194
    Olgun says:

    I would argue that the steady chipping away by getting gay rights, women’s rights etc, were the powerful tools that got us most of the way. Your link caters for people of intelligence and/or of a certain class. It did not cater for me at the time. I’ve not seen it before. Many more people saw Life of Brian. It did not shock but planted little seeds that grew and made people ask questions, maybe later on in life. Hitchens cold bucket of water is, again, for specific people. He is preaching to the choir whether they are with him or against him. He has just become a tool for people who have their minds already made up, either way. Tools easily become weapons.



    Report abuse

  • 195
    Olgun says:

    That last line Marget sounds like the gun lobbies ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people’. I believe in free speech whole heartedly but, as with guns, in responsible hands. I just would like religion challenged without having to paint my face blue, raising up my kilt and waving my bottom at my enemy.



    Report abuse

  • Hitchens takes out Stockwood. HE was the problem (particularly at the four minute mark or thereabout) and that is where the cold buckets of water got directed afterwards, not at we lesser folk. The upper echelons of the church needed their complacent boat rocked. These are the CEOs, the movers and shakers, those arrogant policy makers, that big guns like CH aimed at.

    Gays rights, women’s rights worked in an exactly similar robust manner. My copy of Spare Rib thundered.

    Politeness in the face of immorality had better only be a strategy here. If this isn’t a moral issue for you then best to move on to something more worthy of your time.



    Report abuse

  • 197
    Olgun says:

    Of course it’s a strategy Phil. I have said it to you before. I want to rid my house of mice but don’t want to do it by burning the lot down. I am only questioning the technique.



    Report abuse

  • Well then. Good luck to you. If I can, I’ll pitch at (and as if at) the Bishop Stockwoods.

    Personally I’d rather take Ewan for a pint and chat about Wolf Hall than engage in polite debate here. We would have a much nicer time and achieve as much as discussing morals here.



    Report abuse

  • I think something has come out not as intended. Come for a pint, too!

    If I can’t accuse someone of a moral dereliction of duty as I wish to, and quite clearly, I may as well go to the pub.



    Report abuse

  • 201
    Olgun says:

    I think we need to regroup here Phil. I have never criticised your personal method apart from putting forward Hitchens one speech, or part of, that I don’t agree with. I am all for blunt argument in the right circles and venue. But, what I got from the part in question is aggression from the get go. It is not about reasoned argument but a provocation. I don’t care the stance of others but the measured response of intelligent people even if one of them is unreasonable. That is why I prefer the personality of RD, except for a few occasions as in the email readings. Your method is something I like also but I don’t find the freedom of speech without walls a helpful instruction without health warnings attached.



    Report abuse

  • I have just deleted a huge post on this, then realised I didn’t actually answer your concerns. Later, we can do this thing about harms, low empathy folk and the hyper pro-social.

    Don’t ever worry about offending me. I’ll say. But offense for me is only ever about a feeling of being misunderstood and I know the dialogue between us can continue until you find out that fact or I understand that I have, indeed, been all too well understood.

    I think we both fail to detail what we mean. What does Hitch actually say that particularly bugs you? I think a specific will help me.



    Report abuse

  • I’d submit that it is the result or consequence of someones belief or the potential result of the belief that can justify criticism of the belief itself.
    For example, a religious belief is that you should eat with your left hand because your right hand is used to wipe your anus . The acting out of the belief in this case is harmless and unlikely to offend “modern human rights” so there would be no point in criticising the action or the belief.

    On the other hand, to physically prevent women from being educated is intolerable in terms of modern human rights and for anyone to claim that it is OK because of religious belief or culture certainly entitles one to criticise the belief because it is used to justify the unacceptable action.

    For all moslems to be taught that all non moslems are infidels and should be killed is a serious threat whether it is acted out or not, so the belief has the potential for serious human rights abuse and is therefore a definite target for strong criticism….the objective being to stop or prevent the potential threat by hopefully modifying the belief.

    PS I don’t believe there is enough effort going into demanding modernised revisions of religious texts to remove the brutal and barbaric imperatives that were enforced in the past but that are now totally unacceptable. Religion is outdated and obsolete but is unlikely to disappear soon. A a wise interim step would be to lobby for revisions of unsavoury text to re shape beliefs so that future generations are saved from having to interpret and act them out… or not.



    Report abuse

  • It seems to me that a fundamental error keeps being made in many of the posts above: Criticism of beliefs is really about objecting to the specific consequences or the results of the belief. If those consequences are socially unacceptable, then the criticism undoubtedly has to be provocative in order to encourage/force a change and freedom of speech should never be restricted in that regard. The civilised world is trying everything it can to kill all members of ISIS because of ISIS actions which result from specific Islamic beliefs and which are contrary to modern civilised behaviour. You can’t get more provocative than that!
    Charlie Hebdo provoked a response to its satirical criticism of specific Islamic BEHAVIOUR which is of course the result of Islamic beliefs. If Islam could morally justify that behaviour that results from specific beliefs, then no-one would bother to criticise or provoke it, but the behaviour cannot be justified in modern terms.
    The problem is one of generalisation …the masses don’t look at the specific behaviour and its underlying belief and criticise that, but generalise the issue to being the total religion that is needs to be criticised and provoked.



    Report abuse

  • The catch is, if I debate muslims or christians, they will complain I don’t “respect” their religions when I don’t pretend to believe they are plausible, or show deference to their holy cows, i.e. lie. (I have done that too, going under cover posing as a potential convert, inspired by Sir Richard Francis Burton.) Respect may be a totally different matter from tolerance.

    I think of tolerance as what goes on in my apartment building which is about 50% muslim. Neither of us fears attack by the other. We do not have philosophical discussions.



    Report abuse

  • 206
    acorey says:

    The slayings of three Muslims in Chapel Hill, N.C., by a purported atheist, raises the question of whether criticizing the religious beliefs of others is an inherently intolerant or provocative act.

    I am afraid that I disagree with this question. The tragic slaying of three Muslims in Chapel Hill, N.C., by a purported atheist does not raise “the question of whether criticizing the religious beliefs of others is an inherently intolerant or provocative act”, at all. This is the logical fallacy of “begging the question” at work.
    A better question might be why the purported atheism of the perpetrator was mentioned at all. Was their any evidence at all that his lack of religion had anything to do with his crime? It seems logical that the immediate questions surrounding an act like this would be more focused on the perpetrators mental health than anything else.

    The media hype surrounding the perpetrators “atheism” and the religion of the victims smacks of obvious sensationalism. It is the media with the problem here. The term “militant atheist” was immediately coined. Is that even a thing? My friends and I used to joke about things like this saying we were “militant centrists”, part of the “fanatic middle”, and now I see something like it in a headline, delivered with a straight face. Great, now they’ve invented another bogey-man to rally the religious- we’re the victims of everything- troops against. Some one please find me and show me the “militant atheist” training camp and literature.

    As the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri, unfolded, the issue of the religion of the police, or of the victims, or protestors was not mentioned. Why not? This is another classic case of Christian on Christian violence. In fact, I can find you thousands of examples of it happening every day in America, and I don’t have to supply you with any epistemological evidence to show that this is a statistical anomaly more than a religious one. I can say it just like that if I want to make it sound like Christian on Christian violence is A- a thing, and B- a thing you should worry about.

    No, I am sorry, the real question here is weather or not the perpetrator had a mental illness that could have been monitored better. Could this tragic, senseless killing over a parking space have been avoided by more out-reach, community involvement, and funding for our mental health system, which is in tatters. And the fault of missing this question entirely lies with our news media, which is also in tatters.



    Report abuse

  • Sorry Phil, Just seen your response.

    What I object to in Hitchens speech is mainly the invitation for ‘Anyone who wants to say bad things about him to bring it on’ and he will beat them to the ground with his knowledge. It is provocation to me and not discussion. He also gives extreme cases of people getting arrested for the act but IMHO finds no middle ground at all. The debate before his say it much better than I can and to quote Adrienne Lipsey;

    “Being part of a minority group that is having hatred systematically flung at them, it ruins your ability to function as an equal part of society”

    There are victims and I don’t believe the right to be heard, or the right to listen, is enough to sway me to accept Hitchens Freedom of speech trumps all attitude.

    I also invite you to listen to the whole of Rory McKeowns’ speech ( you probably already have) as it sounds as if he really believes in everything he is saying rather than for the sake of the debate. Not much I didn’t like in this young mans manner or words.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QIyBZNGH0TY



    Report abuse

  • Thanks, Olgun. I’ll re-view this. But…this actually crystallised my stance. I suspect I won’t move from this-

    The sheer unenforcible fatuity of hate speech legislation lies stark. How much better its replacement with incitement to violence legislation assiduously policed, much more readily tested and prosecuted. It could achieve real substance.

    I have no problem with Hitchens issuing challenges. People might think he is not really prepared to stand by his ideas. That is precisely why I invited the hate speech of ISIS directed towards western democracy. We all need to know who hates what and why?



    Report abuse

  • 209
    Olgun says:

    Thanks, Olgun. I’ll re-view this. But…this actually crystallised my
    stance. I suspect I won’t move from this

    I hope not. Although I believe full on free speech is dangerous and counter productive, the debate about it is essential in buffering it to an acceptable point.



    Report abuse

  • full on free speech

    Even here I haven’t advocated that. And I will remind you that I said I would rate a society the greater for the amount of free speech it can tolerate.



    Report abuse

  • I simply cannot say it any better:

    The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

    Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower. The criticism of religion disillusions man, so that he will think, act, and fashion his reality like a man who has discarded his illusions and regained his senses, so that he will move around himself as his own true Sun. Religion is only the illusory Sun which revolves around man as long as he does not revolve around himself.”
    ― Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right



    Report abuse

  • This was a terribly poorly written question. What are you asking really? What entity are you referring to? The atheist who shot the Islamic students in the belief that he was the intolerant person, …or are you speaking about the intolerant populace who condemn the atheist for his beliefs? And are you combing the two concepts of inherently intolerant’ or ‘provocative act’ into your question, …or are you asking if the criticism over religious beliefs are either inherently intolerant “or” a provocative act? I’m at a total loss just what you are asking. Provocative is a subjective word requiring a scale of titillation. And if you define inherently as genetically inclined one would still be puzzled contrasting it to something “provocative.” Provocative suggests something stimulating, but I don’t think that is the word you really wanted to use. Are you asking if a person is genetically inclined to act a certain way, or is he/she doing something through sentient willfulness?



    Report abuse

Leave a Reply

View our comment policy.